Friday, April 29, 2005
I have to admit that I've always had a soft spot in my heart for the Strib, since they did endorse me when I ran for the state legislature. They probably figured that since I had no chance to win, I was the token conservative they could side with so they could prove to everyone that they actually were non-partisian. Yeah, right.
Anyway, I should also point out that it's a very, very, very small soft spot. And it does seem to get smaller every day.
Powerline does a great job here and here uncovering the fiasco of the Strib's editorial board attacking the Republicans for trying to get rid of the filibuster (in certain situations) while conveniently forgetting (and then denying) they endorsed the very same idea during the Clinton administration.
It just makes you shake your head, doesn't it? And they wonder why their circulation keeps dropping.
Reading between the lines of what I've read, I do believe that Badda-Blogger, Veritas, Veritatis Splendor, and Our Word all live in the same area, or at least have roots here. And my question to you all is - why do we put up with it?
Is it the weather?
This is an excerpt from a column written last month by Denis Boyles for NRO. He's writing from France, and describing some of the controversy in Europe over Terri Schiavo. I use the word controversy, but perhaps that's the wrong word. What they were really doing, many of them, was laughing at us for how worked up we were all getting over such an unimportant issue. The whole column is very good, but I wanted to offer a lengthy excerpt which says so much, and I wish the people I was talking about in the previous post would take a moment to ponder what he's saying and ask if they're falling into the same trap.
The alternative to being passionately engaged with the terrible fate of Terri Schiavo is to mutter a few words about how "sad and tragic" it all is and just move on. That's certainly what the New York Times and most Europeans would like to see. However, in the grim arc of two lifetimes, we've seen very often what happens when you shrug off one death, let alone many, many more. In fact, we saw it in France, where all those enlightened rationalists live, less than two years ago when 15,000 weak and elderly men and women were left to die in a summer heat wave while government services shut down and their families all went on holiday.
By the end of August 2003, 15,000 French people had died of simple neglect. That's the equivalent of five 9/11s in four months. One such event is all it took to transform America. In France, massive death received a massive shrug. I've reported this before, of course, but I still can't get over it: As a result of what happened during those awful weeks, nothing changed. The French press ignored the story almost entirely as it unfolded and only began reporting it in detail well after the fact. Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin, at his villa in the south of France, held a casual, poolside press conference as the bodies piled up — and denounced "partisan politics." Chirac remained on holiday through the disaster, but addressed the nation and promised sweeping changes. Meanwhile, jammed funeral homes began turning bodies away. Many of them went unclaimed. Chirac's grand plan? If you are old and infirm and at the edge of death and French, do not go to an understaffed, overheated hospital. Instead, go to the movies, where it's air conditioned. The last I read, more than a year and a half after the event there are still unidentified bodies of grandmothers and grandfathers stuffed into the morgues of Paris.
I didn't mean to produce a homily for the holiday, but it does seem to merit mentioning that Terri Schiavo's plight has been caricatured by the French and European press for a reason other than just to make droll. France despises America because we display, rather ostentatiously at times, all the marks of spiritual enthusiasm while they cling tightly to rational secularism. Much of what distinguishes the U.S. from France follows from that: Where we are optimistic, France is pessimistic. Where we have hope, they have cynicism. Where we are energetic, they are complacent. Where we are open and occasionally naive, they are secretive, deceitful and aloof. Where we succeed, they cannot.
Don't you all understand - this is where we're all headed unless we do something to change. I can't believe that you really want this kind of world, do you? Your cynical, snarky, ironic worldview, which really masks despair and aimlessness - there's more to life than that. You have to believe this.
Christ once told His critics, "If you don't believe in Me, at least believe in what I do." The same holds here. Whether you believe in God or not, whether you even believe in a force of good, does it really hurt to be nice to someone, to be civil, to try and help your fellow man? We're all in this together, whether we like it or not. Is it that hard to just try?
And yes, Ethan, I'm talking about you, too.
I've made this point before, and I'll probably continue to make it again, but there does seem to be an awful lot of nastiness out there. You'll recall this thread started yesterday with my link to the BaddaBlog story on Air America's assassination "jokes" about Bush. It continues. . .
I'd meant earlier in the week to draw your attention to this fine column from Stanley Kurtz - on the May issue of Harper's Magazine, article entitled "The Christian Right's War on America" (yawn), but I think I'll piggyback off the post by Veritas, because he makes some good points as well. Chris hits the nail on the head with this comment: "But for some secular liberals, the ends most certainly justify the means."
We seem to be on some kind of theme here. Michelle Malkin exposes the venomous hatred coming from liberals at the news of Laura Ingraham's breast cancer (the medical news on it, thank God, is promising). Some of it was so bad that even fellow breast-cancer sufferer Elizabeth Edwards (wife of John) had to stand up for Laura. A sampling of their comments:
She probably gave it to herself...
I don't pray for Nazis or other Totalitarian Scum
I hope she goes into remission and f*****g chokes to death.
And those, as Michelle points out, were the ones that weren't deleted.
Oh yes, I almost forgot, there were these comments from the lefty blog AmericaBlog:
Hile Pope Ratzinger .....no wonder so many people have left the catholic church....now they can try to strenthen their flock via 3rd world countries....
Well, that explainds the red, black and white robes......what a f***** up world....a Nazi Pope...What can one expect from a filthy Nazi?
the catholic church has always trived on violence - any belief that it is a peaceful church is delusional.
This from a Nazi bastard wearing a dress - and no doubt with a past in child-molesting. Can we say projecting our sexual guilt on others, perhaps?
WHY WHY WHY anyone would belong to this Church is beyond me. Especially if you are gay OR a woman. It's almost like the gay Log Cabin Repubs. But worse.
The only way the Catholic Church will change is for people to wake up and see they are fools for following it or continuing to call themselves Catholic. Surely of the 60 million americans who do - only a handful actually follow it all to a T anyway. WAKE up SHEEPLE!
I guess he doesn't get called Holy Father - he'd prefer Mein Fuhrer.
Now that we have Pope Adolf 1, that should be more clear to everyone.
You can read more if you want, courtesy of TKS at NRO.
What I find interesting about this is that, invariably, when liberals talk about conservatives they usually find some way of working the word "intolerant" into the conversation. But if these comments don't represent a dictionary definition of "intolerance," I don't know what does.
Strike that. The word for this is not intolerant. The word is hate. And these people are filled with hate, consumed with it, using it as the fuel that drives their lives. Just look at the people who were determined to kill Terri Schiavo, who are determined to allow the murder of millions of babies each year. Now, I know some of you will suggest that I'm not helping things along by using such "loaded" terms - but if you understand the natural law, you also understand that these words describe exactly what is going on. To conspire with such anti-natural behavior - there's no other way you can describe it.
How meaningless this is. What a waste of God's gift of life, to spend it this way. I was discussing this with Hadleyblogger Peter at lunch today, and we both agreed that if conservatives ever spoken this way, we'd be condemning it as roundly as we do the liberals. The liberals - or, I should say, some liberals, since it's hard for even me to believe that these comments are representative of all liberals as a whole - have a hard time believing we'd do that. As a matter of fact, I'm sure they're looking through posts like this right now, trying to find our anti-Semitic, homophobic, racist points of view that they know are hidden here somewhere.
I feel, what? Pity? Compassion? Contempt? A little of each, I suppose. Because ultimately we want these people to be saved - we dare to hope that everyone might be saved, even though we know that, through their actions, there are those who will choose to reject that salvation. But what these people have a hard time appreciating is that we really do care. And when they do figure it out, when they realize we're praying for them, they hate us for it.
I don't think there's anything wrong with a good, clean political fight. I've often said I'd much rather have a spirited argument with an intelligent foe than to talk with a dullard who agrees with everything I say. (And I'll beat you to the punch on this - you don't have to be a dullard to agree with me.) But, with very few exceptions, I've always been able to maintain respect and even affection for those people with whom I do have such disagreements, and I'll be so bold as to suggest they feel the same way about me. As I might have stated before, one of the reasons I got out of politics was because I didn't want a political ideology to determine who I could be friends with.
The point is, at the end of the day we're usually able to pack up our disagreements and remain friends. We concede that, for the most part, each of us is speaking from sincere, strongly held viewpoints, and we grant those good intentions.
It is this kind of good will that I see missing in the comments from the people I refer to above. It is this level of discordant conversation, this "in-your-face" attitude, the coarsening of society, that is so discouraging.
Lest you think this is simply a liberal-conservative thing, it's not. For example, you'd be hard-pressed to match some of the venom between neocons and paleocons. Even within the Church, there's plenty of controversy, not just between the orthodox and heterodox, but between the orthodox and the traditionalists (the ones who believe every pope since Pius XII is an anti-pope). As a priest once commented in a homily I heard, you use up so much more energy hating than you do loving. Think of what you could do with all that energy if you put it to use for good.
Some of these people are misled. Some are naive. Some are frustrated, beside themselves, disgusted with everything. Some are probably chronically unhappy, depressed, misanthropic. But you can't deny that some of them are evil, or at least are allowing evil to control their thoughts and actions. Perhaps it's too strong a word to say they're posessed, but there's no question the Devil is having a field day.
We have to keep praying, of course. Jesus told us as much, when He forgave his torturers on the Cross. Perhaps they don't know what they're doing. Maybe they're ignorant of the consequences. Maybe it will be that one last prayer that opens a seam through which God can slip in. If that's the case, we have to keep trying. If we don't, then we'll have to accept some of the blame.
Thursday, April 28, 2005
The Vatican hit back at a Spanish government bill allowing homosexuals to marry and adopt children, saying Christians had a duty to oppose such "iniquitous" legislation.
For Pope Benedict XVI, the draft law poses a first test just days after he was elected leader of the Roman Catholic Church, which takes a strict line on homosexuality.
The Vatican denunciation came from Cardinal Alfonso Lopez Trujillo, head of the Pontifical Council on the Family, in an interview with the Corriere della Sera newspaper.
Asked about the Spanish bill adopted [last] Thursday by deputies in Spain's lower house of parliament, he replied: "We cannot impose the iniquitous on people.
"On the contrary, precisely because they are iniquitous the Church makes an urgent call for freedom of conscience and the duty to oppose."
"A law as profoundly iniquitous as this one is not an obligation, it cannot be an obligation. One cannot say that a law is right simply because it is law."
Here's the money section:
Trujillo said that municipal officials asked to perform homosexual marriage ceremonies should object on grounds of conscience, even if it meant they might lose their job.
"I am talking of every profession linked to implementation" of the law, he told Corriere della Serra.
"They should exercise the same conscientious objection asked of doctors and nurses agains a crime such as abortion.
"This is not a matter of choice: all Christians . . . must be prepared to pay the highest price, including the loss of a job."
This discussion is reminiscent of the famed First Things debate from a few years ago regarding the obligation of Americans to follow unjust laws. It also seems to tie in nicely with the discussion we've been having regarding the morality (or lack of same) in Corporate America.
The Journal speculates that this could be an indication of the extent to which Benedict intends to challenge the growing secularism of Europe. It would be interesting if the Vatican made a similar challenge in America, wouldn't it? . . .
At any rate. Recently we were at Loome Theological Booksellers in Stillwater (the founder, Thomas Loome, was a one-time student of Joseph Ratzinger, I'll have you know), and while we were there I stumbled upon the book Building the Free Society: Democracy, Capitalism, and Catholic Social Teaching, edited by George Weigel and Robert Royal. Well, it was pretty hard to pass up a book with a title like that, so I decided to add it to our library.
I've just begun to skim through the book, but what caught my eye was an essay by Thomas C. Kohler on Pius XI's famous encyclical Quadragesimo Anno (On Reconstruction of the Social Order), written in 1931. This was issued to commemorate the fourtieth anniversary of Rerum Novarum, which we've discussed previously. (Quad = four, get it? See, you too can learn Latin!)
This essay serves to introduce us to two concepts related to Distributism - Subsidiarity and Solidism. Both ideas, ironically (considering our new Holy Father) come from Germany. According to Kohler, social Catholicism "received its start in Germany under the guidance of Wilhelm Emmanual von Ketteler, the bishop of Mainz (1811-77), and Germany had remained a leading center for Catholic social thought."
Kettner "accepted capitalism and believed that its replacement was not a practical possibility." Instead, he sought to use labor unions, co-ops, and other forms of associations supported by a limited amount of social legislation. This became the principle of subsidiarity - "the state and all other associations exist for the individual. Societies should not assume what individuals can do, nor should larger societies undertake what smaller associations can accomplish." What could not be done by either associations or individuals should be undertaken by the state or larger social institutions, but this would be seen as limited in necessity.
Subsidiarity received its formal definition in Pius' encyclical. Read it all by following the link above, but concentrate on passages 79-80. Here's a sample of what Pius said:
[I]t is a fixed and unchangeable principle, most basic in social philosophy, immovable and unalterable, that, just as it is wrong to take away from individuals what they can accomplish by their own ability and effort and entrust it to a community, so it is an injury and at the same time both a serious evil and a disturbance of right order to assign to a larger and higher society what can be performed successfully by smaller and lower communities. The reason is that all social activity, of its very power and nature, should supply help [subsidium] to the members of the social body, but may never destroy or absorb them.
By keeping economic units small and/or family operated, we promote a more stable society and encourage a Christian way of life.
While the encyclical does deal with subsidiarity, Kohler says the much larger portion "is devoted to enunciating a 'sane corporative system' on which a society can be grounded." This was solidarism, founded by German economist Heinrich Pesch, S.J. Again, according to Kohler,
Solidarism, or corporatism, can be seen as an attempt to work out the principle of subsidiarity in the economic order of a society. Meant to represent a "third way," solidarism rejects the premises of both socialism and liberal individualism. It locates in the nature of man and society a principle for the order of the economy as a whole. Repudiating both centrally planned command economics and unrestricted competition, solidarism proopses the establishment of free, voluntary, and self-governing organizations composed of all the members of the various professions and occupations represented in the economy.
As you can see, once again there is an emphasis on the ability of workers to be involved - the opposite of the "wage slave" Chesterton so scorned. There is no "corporative state," as was the case in fascist regimes. The Church's concern is that the individual remain just that, an individual, recognized as a human being, and not the cog in some powerful machine, whether that machine be operated by big government or big business. When institutions create distant bureaucracies and experts doing other people's thinking for them, it suggests you can't make decisions for yourself - Kohler calls that "truly dehumanizing." He goes on to say:
Moreover, as Quadragesimo Anno points out, institutions that deviate from the principle of subsidiarity tend to hinder material prosperity. Hierarchical, top-down schemes ultimately suggest that administrative specialists and organizational planners can anticipate not only that people's ideas, needs, and desires will be but when they will have them. When we are denied opportunities for self-determination, we are stripped of the conditions through which we actuate our human potential. We become objects of administration, instead of persons free and encouraged to engage in successively more signifcant acts of self-realization.What does this all mean? That the workplace must exist for the individual and his betterment, in the same way that all other institutions - "since all rightly ordered societies exits for the individual, the emphasis in establishing any sort of social order must be on setting the conditions that will enhance opportunities for individuals to deliberate, choose, and act for themselves. Only by so doing do we treat people as human beings." Those that fail to do so will eventually collapse.
The encyclical also demonstrates an admirably early understanding of the growing tendency of people to become overly preoccupied with their jobs and relations in the workplace. Because of its abiding interest in the institutional arrangements that affect the development of human personality and the potential for self-realization, [QA] is compelled to focus on the relations between employer and employee.
Notice how timely this discussion is, coming on Pope Benedict's warning of the "Dictatorship of Relativism." It is the rampant radical individualism, coming as a reaction to the oppression of collectivist government, that leads to such excess.
I think that's enough for one sitting. But you see how we've started with Distributism, going back to the days of Chesterton and Belloc, and have seen how many of the same conditions exist today. Therefore, this is a relevant discussion. In our next installment, I think we'll get into the Catholic Worker movement and Dorothy Day, among others. What she has to say about how Corporate America prostitutes itself, selling anything for a profit regardless of the effect it has on society, is blunt and worth considering. One of the greatest sins, she says, is "to instill in the heart of the worker paltry desire, so compulsive that he or she is willing to sell liberty and honor to satisfy them."
The rest is for another day. Perhaps a day this weekend.
Wednesday, April 27, 2005
But what I think has contributed to Katie's major loss of appeal is that millions of women have finally caught onto the liberal bias in much of her reporting. Katie, like many women in media, just assumed that all women — just because they were women — agreed with them about issues such as gun control and abortion. She has always been at her sharpest, interviewing those with conservative points of view while throwing softballs at her political favorites. And Katie's attitudes and opinions did have considerable influence with women. That's because for years she has come into millions of women's homes on a daily basis, seemingly so concerned about their needs, able to both dish diets and criticize the government's policy in Iraq, swoon over celebrities and swoon over Hillary.Isn't that a nice turn of phrase - "poised, creamy insincerity."
Katie marketed herself like a friend — a sophisticated girlfriend — and women want to agree with their friends — up to a point. In the last election the majority of married women with children, exactly the Today Show's typical viewers, voted for President Bush. Many participants in AOL's chat room yesterday complained about Katie's obvious bias and said they had departed to Fox and Friends, Fox News's morning show, or Good Morning America, where Diane Sawyer shrewdly seems to hide her own opinions behind, in Stanley's words, her "poised, creamy insincerity."
Good commentary on this at BaddaBlog, along with some insights into the snarky comments at the liberal talk-net Air America. And they think conservatives are mean-spirited. . .
Monday, April 25, 2005
What's that? You insist on something? Well, OK. . .
In a very humorous column in NRO today by Ned Rice, he gives an astute analysis of the disappointment felt by liberal "Catholics" such as Andrew Sullivan, and makes the point that the Church is not run by opinion polls. An excerpt:
[A] truly liberal Holy Father might have moved the Church towards the proverbial, doctrinal hat trick: allowing actively gay men to be Catholics, then ordaining them as priests, and then allowing them to marry their male partners. There’s a name for churches that condone that sort of thing, and that name is "Episcopalian.”
Often, the most effective way to make your point is through humor, and near the end of his column, as Rice hits upon the truth of Catholicism:
Likewise our Founding Father (is it O.K. to call Him that?) realized the importance of having a set of rigid standards that would supercede the trends and whims of human behavior. Which is why, as the story goes, He dictated a set of Commandments to Moses. Which, over the millennia, among other things, gave rise to today’s Roman Catholic Church. A church whose dogma (as described in its Creed) is almost impossible to change, and whose doctrine (the rules that evolved thereafter based on the Commandments and the teachings of Christ) is systematically dictated by the Vatican, through the ultimate in inspiration.
So if you think this or any other pope is just plain wrong on celibacy or homosexuality or anything else big, and this upsets you so much it interferes with your spiritual life, you’d be well advised to find yourself another church. Otherwise you’re like the orthodox Jew who, in light of recent developments, has taken it upon himself to decide that it’s all right for him to eat pork. You can be an orthodox Jew, and you can eat pork. You’re free to do either one. But folks, you just can’t do both. There are names for Catholics who don’t accept that they can’t do certain things and still receive the sacraments, and one of those names is Senator John Kerry.
Andrew Sullivan points out correctly that the Catholic Church has changed over the years, offering examples such as Vatican II and absolving the Jews for Christ’s death. But those changes weren’t dogmatic, as a liberalization of the Church’s views on abortion or homosexuality would be, and they certainly weren’t the result of a town-hall meeting or an online poll. They came about as a result of years of prayer and reflection from within the Vatican, not because of a particularly meaningful Oprah episode.
When you're not laughing out loud, I suspect you'll be nodding your head in agreement. Read the rest here.
Saturday, April 23, 2005
Having said that, however, I would give anything else to be able to write like Peggy Noonan. She is a marvel. Maybe it isn't the choice of words so much as it is the way her mind works, the way she develops the thoughts that string those words and paragraphs into things of sheer beauty, at the same time both poetic and clear-cut.
Case in point is her column this week in WSJ Online on Benedict's election. It starts, "There were many moving and dramatic moments in Rome two days ago, but this is the one I think I'll remember: the sight of them running."
And why were they running?
People are complicated. You can hit distracted people with all the propaganda in the world, you can give it to them every day in all your media, and sometimes they'll even tell pollsters they agree with you. But something is always going on in their chests. Some truth is known there; some yearning lives there. It's like they have a compass in their hearts and turn as they will, this way and that, it continues to point to true north.
We want a spiritual father. We want someone who stands for what is difficult and right, what is impossible but true. Being human we don't always or necessarily want to live by the truth or be governed by it. But we are grateful when someone stands for it. We want him to be standing up there on the balcony. We want to aspire to it, reach to it, point to it and know that it is there. Because we can actually tell what's true.
We can just somehow tell.
When I read this I thought instantly of a passage in Bishop Sheen's book The World's First Love. He said that we were born with the desire for divine love already within us, and that we spend the rest of our lives attempting to satisfy that love:
Every person carries within his heart a blueprint of the one he love. What seems to be "love at first sight" is actually the fulfillment of desire, the realization of a dream. Plato, sensing this, said that all knowledge is a recollectionfrom a previous existence. This is not true as he states it, but it is true if one understands it to mean that we already have an ideal in us, one that is made by our thinking, our habits, our experiences, and our desires.
Some go though life without ever meeting what they call their ideal. This could be very disappointing, if the ideal never really existed. But the aboslute ideal of every heard does exist, and it is God. All human love is an initiation into the Eternal.
This, then, is why they ran. But there are, as Peggy Noonan points out, those who want to keep the people from running. Such people "imagine themselves courageous and oppressed. What they are is agitated, aggressive, and well-connected. They want to make sure his papacy begins with a battle. They want to make sure no one gets a chance to love him. Which is too bad because even his foes admit he is thoughtful, eager for dialogue, sensitive, honest."
What to do about this?
See his enemies for what they are, and see him for what he is. Read him--he is a writer, a natural communicator of and thinker upon challenging ideas. Listen to him. Consult your internal compass as you listen, and see if it isn't pointing true north.
Look at what he said at the beginning of the papal conclave: It is our special responsibility at this time to be mature, to believe as adults believe. "Being an 'adult' means having a faith which does not follow the waves of today's fashions or the latest novelties." Being an adult is loving what is true and standing with it.
It is, as Bishop Sheen suggested, the world's first love.
Others are taking this advice to heart. Cardinal Ratzinger's books are climbing Amazon's rankings (four in the top 25 alone, at 11, 13, 19, and 21). This is a good sign. It shows that people want to know more, they want to learn about this man. Perhaps they want to see if he is as bad as some say he is. Or maybe they're encouraged by what others have told them, and they want to learn more. I think the first group will be pleasantly surprised, the second group encouraged. Both groups will want to share what they've learned. It suggests to me that people have open minds, and open minds can open hearts.
And when that heart is opened, it allows that internal compass to move, and the needle to point to true north.
- Intra-Church, that is, healing the split formed by the SSPX and other extreme conservative groups;
- Inter-Church Western, bringing the Anglicans back into the Catholic fold; and
- Inter-Church Eastern, laying the groundwork for eventual reunion with the Orthodox.
Read the comments section as well for some very interesting discussion regarding these points.
It's ironic; Benedict has been attacked on many fronts for driving a wedge between Catholicism and other Christian denominations, yet many non-Catholics seem overjoyed with his choice. Non-Catholic pastors in Germany have talked of how they've enjoyed working with then-Cardinal Ratzinger over the years. In certain cases, Cardinal Ratzinger had allowed communion to non-Catholics. And lest you think this is limited to the Christian faith, Jews look forward to continuing the progress made with John Paul, and the Jerusalem Post even defends Benedict against the "Nazi Pope" charges.
I remember hearing a talk from Fr. Joseph Fessio once; in answer to a question regarding ecumenism, he said that in his opinion, "the best ecumenism is conversion." I think this a very important point; we must keep inter-faith discussions open, we must find our common ground and build upon that, but at the same time we must never water down or sell short the teachings of the Catholic Church. One of the things I found so attractive about Catholicism when I converted was that this was a church that actually believed in something. People look for those kinds of certainties in life, now more than ever (see Peggy Noonan's column, referenced above). To the extent that the Church waters that message down to the lowest common denominator, it has and will continue to suffer the same decline as mainline Protestant denominations.
But I don't believe that's going to happen under Benedict. Those who predict that he will be "divisive" will be sadly mistaken, I think. Probably the only ones who will be driven away are those liberal "Catholics" who have already taken themselves outside the orthodox teaching of the Church.
Your Linguistic Profile:
|70% General American English|
|10% Upper Midwestern|
Thursday, April 21, 2005
Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, The Question of Suffering, the Response of the Cross
(tip to K-Lo)
I’m still astonished that some can see a conservative elevated to the papacy and think: a man of tradition? As Pope? How could this be? As if there this was some golden moment that would usher in the age of married priests who shuttle between blessing third-trimester abortions and giving last rites to someone who’s about to have the chemical pillow put over his face. At the risk of sounding sacreligious: it’s the Catholic Church, for Christ’s sake! You’re not going to get someone who wants to strip off all the Baroque ornamentation of St. Peter’s and replace them with IKEA wine racks, okay?
As I mentioned to Baddabloger at lunch today, it reminds me of the journalists covering Barry Goldwater's presidential campaign in 1964. The conventional wisdom (which was no more right then than it is now) said that Goldwater would have to moderate his stances if he had any hope of winning. Whereupon Goldwater unleashed his famous "extremism in the pursuit of liberty is no vice" line, which prompted one pundit to cry, "My God, he's running as Barry Goldwater!"
As Baddabloger says, "duh!"
By the way - thanks for your kind comments here. You're welcome! :) And you Our World fans, check out Baddabloger - he's smart, funny, and insightful. Encourage him; maybe he'll right more!
It's truly about the Christian concept of free will; that's where CHOICE comes into play. Many on the left take their model from the civil rights movement - they look to impose their moral views on an unwilling populace. What they forget, however, is that the true change in the South came when people's hearts were moved - they couldn't live with themselves when they had to face the reality of their actions.
She says exactly what I've been trying, in a most inefficient way, to say for years: you don't change society by passing laws (although you have to make the effort) - you change society by converting hearts.
Of course, the left is always pro-choice - when it comes to aborting babies, that is. But as Linda says, when it's how to raise your child, what you can eat and drink, and what the MSM tells you you're supposed to watch, then it's a different story. Your only "choice" is what they choose for you...
Moloney's essay analyzes the influence on young Joseph Ratzinger's spiritual development of growing up in Nazi Germany. Moloney sharply disagrees with those who downplay it's effect, or suggest that the student protests of 1968 played a far greater role. In Moloney's mind, the '68 protests merely reinforced an observation that Ratzinger had first formed much earlier: the root of decline can be found in the loss of a "sense of sin":
In a radio address in 1940, Pius XII claimed that “the sin of the century is the loss of the sense of sin.” This diagnosis has been repeated and emphasized by all the popes of the late 20th century, none more forcefully than John Paul II. The sense of sin, argued John Paul II in his 1984 apostolic exhortation Reconciliation and Penance, is related to the sense of God; likewise, the secular humanist attempt to develop a morality and way of life that makes no reference to God will also force man to lose his sense of sin.
Ratzinger expressed his dream to enter the priesthood the year after Pius's speech. He was a collaborator with John Paul II on Reconciliation and Penance. It seems clear that this was the defining moment in the future pope's way of thinking, and that all subsequent events would be viewed through the lens that was ground by these events. Moloney comments:
What Pius XII diagnosed as the sin of the 20th century — the loss of a sense of personal guilt and sin — Benedict XVI thinks helped make great evil seem so ordinary. This is the theological solution to Hannah Arendt’s puzzle about how such boring bureaucrats as Himmler and Eichmann could bring about the Holocaust. The Nazis taught, repeatedly and in numerous different ways, that there is no God, no sin, and no personal guilt. Relentless propaganda made it easy for people to avoid feeling guilty, and, since everyone was complicit, nobody was made to answer for his sins.
In this regard, the consumerism and relativism of the West can be just as dangerous as the totalitarianism of the East: It’s just as easy to forget about God while dancing to an iPod as while marching in a Hitler Youth rally. There’s a difference, to be sure, but hardly anyone would contest the observation that in elite Western society, as in totalitarian Germany, the moral vocabulary has been purged of the idea of sin. And if there’s no sense of sin, then there’s no need for a Redeemer, or for the Church.
I think that, for the new pope, the 1968 protests in Europe and the sharp decline in those partaking of the sacrament of confession in the Church after Vatican II made it clear that the sense of sin was breaking down among Western liberal Christians just as it had for Western liberal Germans between the wars. If there’s going to be a theological key to this papacy, I would locate it here.
And this brings me to my hypothesis, which is born in Moloney's closing paragraph, as he offers conjecture on why the Cardinals chose Ratzinger:
In so quickly rallying around the man who, more than any other in the Church, is identified with a developed and public critique of Western European mores, the College of Cardinals were sending a message: The Church is not giving up on the modern West. It seems fair to read this message too in the name taken by the new pope: that of St. Benedict, the patron saint of Europe, the founder of Western monasticism, whose followers preserved classical culture through the Dark Ages after the decadence and fall of Rome.
In retrospect, this is hardly a surprise. Benedict's message echoes that of Christ Himself, Who promised never to desert His Church, Who makes Himself available to us at all times in the Blessed Sacrament, Who urges us time and time again to come to Him in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. No matter what our sins, no matter how often we commit them, His message to us remains the same: When others would give up on you, I never will. I am here for you, come to Me. I will never give up on you.
This, then, whould seem to be Benedict's message to the West; indeed, to everyone. See the Church? We are not giving up on you. As disciples of Christ, this message includes us in a special way, for just as Christ assures us miserable sinners that He will not give up on us, it is part of our calling that we not give up on our mission of spreading His gospel to our brothers and sisters. We look around and perhaps see degradation all around us; sin and despair, poverty and indifference. We see the eyes of the dying Terri Schiavo, the dumpster with the fetuses of aborted babies. No matter how it is expressed, it can be discouraging. Why bother? we think. What difference does it make? What difference do we make?
Here, it would seem, is yet another layer to this theme, for this kind of despair leads not only to a cessation of our Christian witness, it can also lead to a personal spiritual poverty. And it is here, when it seems most bleak, that Christ comes to us again, making His most personal appeal to us: "Don't give up on Me."
This is the rallying cry I think will be coming from Benedict, from his example. Don't give up. Continue to serve as a witness to the faith by living a Christian life. Continue to evangelize, continue to minister to the poor in spirit, continue to perform the corporal works of mercy. Continue to strive for personal holiness in your own life. You never know the lives you touch, the examples you set, the differences you make. It is what makes each and every life special and unique, worth living; it emphasizes the beauty and sanctity, the indivduality of life.
Is it a surprise that we see this echoed in the Our Father? "Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us." Do not give up on them, Christ is telling us, do not give up on Me, do not give up on yourself, as I do not give up on you.
What could be a better compliment to John Paul's "Be Not Afraid" than Benedict's assurance that "Christ and His Church Will Not Give Up on You"?
Wednesday, April 20, 2005
The choice, as MacIntrye saw it, was twofold. On the one hand, we had to choose between Aristotle and Nietzsche--between a morality that embraced the traditional virtues and one that, proclaiming their bankruptcy, sought to "raze to the ground the inherited structures of moral belief and argument." On the other hand, MacIntyre argued, we had to choose between the utopian pessimism of Trotsky--that rancid utopianism that comes to despairing Marxists--and efforts to resuscitate that older, Aristotelean tradition of morality that had apparently--but only apparently--been discredited by the technologically audacious march or modernity. "If," MacIntyre concluded,
"the tradition of the virtues was able to survive the horrors of the last dark ages, we are not entirely without grounds for hope. This time however the barbarians are not waiting beyond the frontiers; they have already been governing us for quite some time. And it is our of consciousness of this that constitutes part of our predicament. We are waiting not for a Godot, but for another--doubtless very different--St. Benedict. Well, perhaps the elevation of Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger to Pope Benedict XVI is a fulfillment of MacIntyre's wish. We shall see."
Before then, however, let's stop and and take one last look backwards in time. This is from the excellent 1983 book Pontiff, by Gordon Thomas and Max Morgan-Witts. I think it's out of print now, but if you run across it in a library or used book store it's well worth a read. It's 1978, and John Paul has just been elected pope. Lambert Greenan, the editor of the English edition of L'Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper, has just received a phone call from John Cardinal Cody, the archbishop of Chicago. Cody, who had been invited to dine with Greenan at the end of the conclave, is calling to express his regrets - the new Holy Father has invited all the cardinals to eat and pray with him. "Very Polish," Cody says. The story continues:
"Also very Irish, Eminence." [Greenan says]
"Polish. Irish. Same thing where I come from," growls Cody. "Okay. You ask me again. Understand?"
A sudden thought strikes Greenan. The Chicago cardinal has a large number of Poles in his archdiocese. It's worth a try.
"Eminence, what's the new pope like?"
"You've met him of course?"
"Sure. Lots of times. A great man. Let me tell you a few things. . . ."
For the next twenty minutes Greenan listens to one cardinal's very personal view of the new pontiff. The editor will decide that what he hears is too privileged ever to reveal."
The riveting call ends on a high note.
"Lambert, you listen to me. This is going to be the greatest pope ever. You get that? Ever."
Without waiting to say good-bye Cody rings off.
Cardinal Cody may have had his faults, but as a prophet he did a pretty good job, didn't he?
Tuesday, April 19, 2005
Lord, source of eternal life and truth, give to your shepherd Benedict XVI a spirit of courage and right judgement, a spirit of knowledge and love.
By governing with fidelity those entrusted to his care, may he, as successor to the Apostle Peter and Vicar of Christ, build your Church into a sacrament of unity, love, and peace for all the world.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
I went to the late afternoon Mass before heading home. Fr. Pavlik was using the prayers from the Mass for a New Pope. He thought that the readings for today, which had nothing to do with today's events, were particularly appropriate:
Those who had been scattered by the persecutionthat arose because of Stephen went as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch, preaching the word to no one but Jews.
There were some Cypriots and Cyrenians among them, however,who came to Antioch and began to speak to the Greeks as well, proclaiming the Lord Jesus. The hand of the Lord was with them and a great number who believed turned to the Lord. The news about them reached the ears of the Church in Jerusalem,and they sent Barnabas to go to Antioch.
When he arrived and saw the grace of God, he rejoiced and encouraged them all to remain faithful to the Lord in firmness of heart,for he was a good man, filled with the Holy Spirit and faith. And a large number of people was added to the Lord.
Then he went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he had found him he brought him to Antioch. For a whole year they met with the Church and taught a large number of people, and it was in Antioch that the disciples were first called Christians.
From Psalm 87:
His foundation upon the holy mountains the LORD loves: The gates of Zion,more than any dwelling of Jacob. Glorious things are said of you, O city of God!
I tell of Egypt and Babylon among those who know the LORD; Of Philistia, Tyre, Ethiopia: "This man was born there."And of Zion they shall say:"One and all were born in her; And he who has established her is the Most High LORD."
They shall note, when the peoples are enrolled: "This man was born there." And all shall sing, in their festive dance: "My home is within you."
John 10: 22-30
The feast of the Dedication was taking place in Jerusalem. It was winter.
And Jesus walked about in the temple area on the Portico of Solomon. So the Jews gathered around him and said to him,"How long are you going to keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly."
Jesus answered them, "I told you and you do not believe. The works I do in my Father's name testify to me. But you do not believe, because you are not among my sheep.
My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish. No one can take them out of my hand.
My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one can take them out of the Father's hand. The Father and I are one."
I find them all appropriate, especially John - "no one can take them out of the Father's hand." He has entrusted us, his sheep, to his Shepherd, who will look after us and help us move toward the Lord.
Fr. Pavlik said something else that I found interesting - that it is not enough to call yourself a Christian. A Christian can sit on his duff and do nothing. No, one has to be a disciple - a follower, a doer, someone who acts. Just as the first reading talks about how the disciples evolved into being called Christians, we as Christians must now evolve into being disciples. I have more thoughts about this, which I'll try to develop in future posts, but this is one of the roots of Catholic thinking - that there must be faith, but without works that faith is empty. Put another way: you can call yourself whatever you want, but would a true Christian simply sit on his faith and not let it inform the way he lived his life?
I'm sorry I wasn't able to post earlier today; this was so exciting, such a great moment, I just wanted to share it with someone!
This is a great day for the Church, a great day for the world. I've been an admirer of the former Cardinal Ratzinger for many years, having long thought he would make a terrific pope. As the years slipped by and the Cardinal, along with JPII, aged, it seemed less and less likely he would be the successor. His name dropped off many of the lists produced by the "experts". But in the last few months there'd been talk; maybe it wasn't so far-fetched after all. He was six years younger than JPII, in pretty good health, and as a consensus began to form that maybe a shorter papacy wouldn't be a bad idea, he became one of the favorites. After his moving homily at John Paul's funeral, people began to say, "he looks like a pope." He projected a sense of comfort, of stability; with him, the Church would be in safe hands. There were other favorites - I have a great regard for Cardinal Arinze, and the Patriarch of Venice was said to be a good man. I forget whether it was Fr. Neuhaus or Michael Novak who said the Church had a deep bench, but it was a comforting thought. I prayed, along with many, that the Cardinals would act in concert with the Holy Spirit, and that gave me a feeling of peace. Still, I dared to hope that Cardinal Ratzinger would be the one.
I was fortunate enough to see most of it at work; in one of those ironies that prove to me God wants us to be happy, I was away from my desk, running an errand that I could have done at any time, when I saw a group of people gathered around a big screen TV in the food court of an office building. It couldn't be, could it? It was not quite 11:00 central time; they didn't figure the smoke to be coming out for another hour.
It looked white, and the crowds were cheering, but the bells were silent. Still, the smoke kept coming, and the cheering was becoming louder and louder. The announcers on Fox were getting caught up in it, more people gathered in the food court. Finally, the bells! There was no doubt about it, and the graphic on Fox told the story: Habemus Papam! We Have a Pope!
There was going to be a wait, I was ready for that. I remembered back to '78, when I had come home from class to find a similar situation, with the crowds anxiously awaiting the announcement. As the minutes ticked by, the suspense mounted. I'd read the opinions that Ratzinger might have peaked too soon; the black smoke earlier in the morning, meaning another two ballots had gone by, lent credence to the idea that it might be someone else. If Ratzinger was so obvious, why was it taking so long? But now I had a hunch; the smoke was early, which suggested to me they'd only voted once in the afternoon. Four ballots in all - very, very unlikely that they'd chosen a surprise candidate. It had to be one of the favorites. My hunch was that it was Ratzinger.
Finally the announcement. The crowd was wild, but settled down as Cardinal Estevez began to speak. As soon as he said "Joseph," the secret was out. "Ratzinger" was merely a confirmation. And the name Benedict - there would be speculation over the meaning, and I thought "this will take some getting used to," but at the same time it seemed right.
Looking at him standing on the balcony, so familiar from having seen him all those years, and yet so different, I couldn't help but think over and over again - it has really happened. The contrast is pronounced - the vestments alone point it out. And he has passed through, in a sense, to another side. Joseph Ratzinger is dead and gone; he is now Pope Benedict XVI, and will be for the ages. I had mentioned a few days ago that this would be the first pope chosen in the age of the mass media and in all likelihood he would be the first who had been widely known prior to being made pope; therefore, it would take some getting used to knowing this Cardinal, whomever he would be, as pope. Looking at him on the balcony (the caption on TV read "Pope Benedict XVI speaks), and looking at the news websites (CNN and Fox broadcast the headline "Ratzinger Becomes Pope," but they were already showing his picture with the caption "Pope Benedict XVI), the truth began to sink in. I looked at his picture more intently; he was the same, but different. I looked at his picture, and felt joy - joy for me, joy for the Church, joy for us all. It nearly brought tears to my eyes several times during the day.
The Lord has answered our prayers. In His great mercy and compassion He has given us not the pope we, as sinful creatures, deserve; He has given us the pope we need. Gaudete! Rejoice! This is a red-letter day for the Church, and the world.
Let us pray for our new Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI. He will come under attack for his background (they're already working that Nazi angle), for his theology, his supposed "extreme right-wing" politics. The attacks will, sadly, probably be more vicious from within than without. But Our Lord hears our prayers, and Our Holy Father knows we are praying for him, just as he is praying for us. Our Lord promised He would remain with His Church until the end of time, and Benedict XVI is living proof. Amen!
Monday, April 18, 2005
"Having a clear faith, based on the creed of the church, is often labeled today as a fundamentalism," Ratzinger said during the homily.
"Whereas relativism, which is letting oneself be tossed and 'swept along by every wind of teaching,' looks like the only attitude acceptable to today's standards," he continued. "We are moving toward a dictatorship of relativism which does not recognize anything as for certain and which has as its highest goal one's own ego and one's own desires."
Lord God, you are our Eternal Shepherd and Guide. In Your mercy grant Your Church a Shepherd who will walk in Your ways and whose watchful care will bring us Your blessing. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ Your Son, Who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen
Now, the reason I bring this up is not to give you more bad news just for the sake of bad news - there seems to be hardly a week where we don't post some kind of story like this. But in the legacy of Terri Schiavo - which we're going to continue, by the way - these stories gain more importance.
The point I'm going for here is not repetition, but education. Many, if not most of our regular readers, don't need to be convinced of the evil that is in the world; but many of you out there, even those with a true dedication to the dignity of life and a strong commitment to promoting good, are sometimes taken aback by the sheer volume of evil out there.
I can remember a number of years ago passing along a story like this to an acquaintance, who refused to accept that it was true. This person was a decent person - no better nor no worse than anyone else - but I don't know whether or not this person had any kind of strong commitment to anything other that success in business. But the story I related just couldn't be true - I must have misunderstood somehow.
Well, as most of you probably know by now, if there's one thing I don't like, it's being told that I'm wrong when I know I'm right. (Of course, one of my problems is that I always think I'm right, but that's another story.) And one of the things you need to be able to do in situations like this is prove what you're talking about. That's why we provide stories like this, information that you might not have access to elsewhere, or might not be aware of.
Evil is real, and it's out there. Some people don't want to deal with that - they clamp their hands over their ears and try to drown it out. Others simply deny it - they blame the messenger, they scoff at the news, they use ridicule as the best weapon. These are the people who would have laughed a few years ago if you'd suggested a constitutional amendment to protect marriage might have been necessary. They're the people who laugh now if you point out that bigamy could be the next taboo to go.
I suppose in a way it's a mark of the innate goodness of many people that they react with horror and disbelief to such horrific possibilities; in their heart of hearts they simply can't believe anyone would go along with such a ridiculous proposition. Unfortunately, we all know where the roads paved with good intentions lead to. It's another symptom of the decline of this country that people want to think with their hearts instead of their minds. But it's been my experience over the last couple of years that more and more people are wising up; they're starting to believe that the worst is not only possible, but there are people out there dedicated to making it happen.
I created a stir at a job once by questioning the involvement the Susan Komen Foundation has with Planned Parenthood. At first people didn't want to believe it; the fight against breast cancer is such a good cause, so noble, so politically correct in Corporate America, there can't possibly be anything wrong with it. What would Planned Parenthood have to do with breast cancer? When I pointed out to them that the relationship was true (and that, incidentally, PP has a very good reason for wanting to deny a connection between breast cancer and abortion), they fell back to another form of denial; well, that may be so, but even so I'm sure their involvement is merely an educational one. PP can do some good things, can't it? For that, I'd direct you back to one of my favorite blogs, The Dawn Patrol. Dawn has done some great work on PP, and this is her latest, an unfortunate tie-in to our initial story: "Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers quietly destroy 80 percent of all children in utero who have Down syndrome." Now, regardless of the merits of fighting breast cancer (a noble, noble cause; I've known courageous women who've successfully fought this disease), can you really tell me you're comfortable giving money to an organization that funds a group like PP? There are a lot of breast cancer events going on around Mother's Day; I have a feeling you and I are going to be revisiting this post in a few weeks.
That's the nature of good and evil. Evil can be subtle, masking it's presence, entering under cover of darkness; but it can also be bold, transparent, so obvious that it makes otherwise good people doubt its existance. You and I know better; otherwise, you probably wouldn't be reading this blog. The easiest way for the devil to win, for evil to emerge triumphant, is for good men and women to do nothing. And that's why we publish some of the information we do; if you're going to fight the good fight, you need to make sure you have the ammo.
Friday, April 15, 2005
The Washington Post reported that some grief counselors were sitting alone at the makeshift grief centers, because tribal members wanted only to talk in private, with loved ones. The counselors have the best of intentions, but whenever such a tragedy strikes, it brings to mind an old New Yorker cartoon. Two cowboys look at something in the distance. “Hard to tell from here,” one of them comments. “Could be buzzards, could be grief counselors.”
Imagine that - wanting to talk to loved ones instead of strangers. If that don't beat all.
Lowry makes great points about the obsession we see in modern culture with "letting it all out." You see this all the time in Corporate America, with the touchy-feely Human Resources department wanting to know "what's on your mind," "how can we help you achieve your life goals," and all sorts of gobbledy-gook. As Lowry says,
The descent of the counselors on Red Lake is in keeping with an article of contemporary American faith: The talking cure cures all. Expressing or dwelling on your emotions eases grief, cures cancer, lifts your spirits and enhances self-understanding. Yes, many people benefit from therapy, and the depressed and mentally ill should seek help. But our belief in the miraculous power of talk is as unjustified as it is pervasive, according to Christina Hoff Sommers and Sally Satel in their new book, One Nation Under Therapy: How the Helping Culture is Eroding Self-Reliance.
Whether we're talking about grief, or any other myriad number of problems that make up human suffering, "getting it all out" isn't always the best thing. Oftentimes, it serves only to work you up even more and make everyone around you feel worse in the process.
Dwelling on your feelings can be a problem, especially if you’re feeling down. A researcher who compared depressed individuals told to ruminate on their feelings with those not so instructed found that over-thinking tends to “impose a lens that shows a distorted, narrow view of our world.” Indeed, it can “take you down paths to hopelessness, self-hate and immobility.” All of this means that there is a risk in forcing therapy on the bereaved, who might be perfectly capable of handling their loss on their own (some people, of course, will not).Of course, all this is part of the New Age way of "getting in touch with our feelings," and it ties in nicely with the liberal mantra that none of us are capable of taking care of ourselves without the help of some kind of Big Brother. Sure, we need help, but we're not helpless - or didn't use to be, anyway. Whether this way of thinking came first and led to other disasterous consequences of this pop psychology, or whether this was merely an outgrowth of that distorted thought process, I'm not sure. But Lowry hits it square on the head, in all it's glorious and troublesome irony. Read the whole thing, and if you need more proof ask yourself this: who cuts the more heroic figure, Gary Cooper or Woody Allen? Then ask yourself who is the more well-balanced.
I'll bet you come up with the same answer to both questions.
We all know that some folks in this country would prefer less (if any) competition. For a long time we haven't heard, "...and the winner is...", instead we are treated to "...and the Oscar goes to..." for fear of hurting the feelings of the losers. Yes, I said it... if you didn't win, you lost! Some parents know that certain youngsters' sports teams do not keep score... everybody wins! It's all about our new idol: self-esteem.
Saints preserve us!
...And then a word about those millions of people, mainly young people, who came to the funeral last Friday. I have seen several accounts, and heard worldly wise reporters, describing the 'rock star' attraction of John Paul. In fact, the crowds, stretching more than three miles beyond St. Peter's, were wondrously solemn and prayerful. The Legionaries of Christ and other religious orders posted priests all along the way and there was a brisk business in confessions around the clock. One Legionary priest tells of his non-stop hearing of confessions--from five o'clock in the afternoon until six o'clock the next morning. The mayor of Rome said that not one serious crime was reported in the city during the days when millions were waiting up to 26 hours to view the body. That is hard to believe, but that is what he said."
And the line I like the best - isn't it a nice bookend to the prologue to John's Gospel?:
"John Paul went to the world and the world came to him, and they knew why
they had come. "
The story of Saul's conversion is probably one of the most thrilling passages in the Bible. Here we have this thug, a persecutor of Christians, participator in the stoning of Stephen, who suddenly and without apparent explanation is knocked off his horse and blinded. His fellow travelers stand amazed and fearful; they see the light and hear the voice, but have no idea what is going on. I'm not sure Saul did, either. All he knew was that the Lord Jesus appeared to him and said "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. Now get up and go into the city and you will be told what you must do," and that was enough for Saul. From that point on, even unto death, he becomes one of the most fervent of the apostles (the only one who carries the title "Apostle" who didn't actually work with Jesus during His earthly life), author of most of the New Testament.
Some contemporary biblical scholars have come to doubt the conversion story, since Paul himself doesn't recount it in his epistles. Luke just made it up, created it, to prove a point, they say (that is, if Luke himself even wrote it). They are, of course, viewing this through modern eyes; what was important to Paul was not how the miracle happened, but what he was going to do with that miracle once it had happened. His epistles are about teaching, not an autobiography of his life. Fr. DeBruycker suggested we read Paul not just as part of Sacred Scripture, though it very much is, but also as letters that tell the inner conversion of a man who has given his entire life over to Christ. We learn about him not by what he says about himself, but by what his actions tell us.
I'm always excited by this part of Acts, starting with the first mention of Saul at the stoning of Stephen. Having heard it so many times prepares you for what comes next, and the anticipation is like that of a magnificent dessert waiting for you at the end of a meal. As moved as I am by Saul's helplessness in the face of Jesus, I'm also stirred by His very comforting words when he appears to Ananias, who dares to question God's wisdom in using this man: "Go, for this man is a chosen instrument of mineto carry my name before Gentiles, kings, and children of Israel,and I will show him what he will have to suffer for my name." In other words, I know what I'm doing - leave it to Me.
This should come as a great comfort to us all, because it speaks volumes about God's ability to use us. No matter how incredible it might seem, He sees value in each and every one of us, and is prepared to use us in His holy plans. None of us are beyond that, none are too far gone - as long as we are willing to cooperate with Him. One of the great obstacles to full and complete reconciliation with God is the despair that comes from thinking that our sins are too great, that we are miserable wretches beyond help. In truth, as the angel says to Mary (nice linkage, huh?), with God nothing is impossible. Need we go any further than the example of the murderous sinner Saul who becomes Paul, the apostle to the gentiles? I take great encouragement every time I hear this, for it means there's still hope for me. It's also a reminder that this is an interactive relationship; while we often contemplate the role that God plays in our lives, we should remember that we also play roles in His plans; His life, so to speak. We share in His life, His suffering, and His redemption. And it is when we share our lives with Him that we'll come to appreciate just how much He shares His life with us.
My main objection to praying through saints had been that such prayer would inevitably direct one away from God. While I can't speak for others, I discovered that for myself, the case turned out to be the opposite. Through becoming emotionally intimate with a saint—or, as a skeptic would say, with my image of who a saint was—I gained a better understanding and appreciation of how God moves in our lives.
Show me a person with lukewarm faith and I'll show you someone who does not believe in a personal God. As it says in Hebrews, "Those who come to God must
believe that He is and that He is the rewarder of all those who diligently seek Him." Yet it is God's very ominipotence—His hugeness—that often makes it difficult for us to understand how He can care about us individually. Imagining God's love personified in Jesus helps, but Jesus, despite His humanity, still seems much larger than life.
Kolbe became, for me, what I believe the saints are for other believers as well—God with skin on. Because I believed that the saint understood completely what I was going through—including persecution, fear, self-doubt, and guilt—I believed that God understood them too. Yet I felt more comfort when addressing certain prayers through Kolbe than when addressing them directly to God—though I continued to pray to God as well—because he put a face on the compassion and empathy that God had for me.
To be honest, I still have trouble imagining how saints figure into God's means of answering prayer, if at all. Then again, if I think about it, I have trouble figuring out how prayer itself figures into God's means of operating the universe. But I've been showered with blessings these past few weeks, and the comfort I've felt in praying through Kolbe makes me wish to give the saints their due.
I'm very fond of this post for a number of reasons; first, I'm overjoyed to see how the saints have interceded for Dawn. Second, I think it's a great reminder that the saints can and do play very active roles in our lives, if we let them. It's understandable that non-Catholics approach this practice with apprehension; what is truly unfortunate is how many Catholics, who should know better, fail to take advantage of the help that awaits them, if only we ask for it. This isn't meant as a rap against non-Catholics, nor should it be taken as some kind of I-told-you-so on my part. I wish I could admit such powerful experiences in my own life; alas, another case where I should practice what I preach more often and more fervently.
But the fact is that the saints are real, as real as you and I are; and they can and do hear and pray for us, through the graces that God provides them. Their prayers for us are that much stronger and more effective for their proximity to God's presence. Wherever you are, whatever else you're doing while you're reading this post, imagine how exciting this concept is; that angels and saints are moving through the air you breathe, interacting in your life at this very moment, working in concert with God and with others to make a direct impact in your life. If you've seen Wim Wenders' stunning movie Wings of Desire, you'll know what I'm talking about. This kind of thing happens all the time, and only rarely do we become aware of it, although the fruits of their activity can be as plain as the nose on our face, if only we look in the mirror.
Saint Maximilian Kolbe, countryman of our late beloved Pope, thank you for petitions granted, pray for us all.
Thursday, April 14, 2005
In the meantime, here are a couple of things I noticed over at NRO that you might find interesting. Some people might wonder why I use them as a source so frequently. It is true that my politics, such as they are, tend to be conservative, but you'll notice that I don't usually link to the political stories. Truth is, some of the best cultural writing can be found at NRO, and that's what usually catches my interest. I also think that since NRO isn't necessarily a first stop for many of our readers, we might be bringing them something they wouldn't otherwise see.
(Of course, there's also the fact that linking to other stories does save time when I'm in a crunch, but that's beside the point!)
So, in no particular order, here is a very interesting essay by Carol Iannone on Rembrandt's Portrait of Christ:
This Jesus possesses a diffident yet confident quality that bespeaks a fullness of personhood beneath — both strong and gentle, wise and innocent, having a humble aspect and yet an awareness of who he is. He is not gesturing toward us, as depicted in so many paintings of Jesus, but his eyes directly engage even as his hands remain crossed quietly on his breast. He is interested in us, yet reticent and pensive, it seems. Those steady, dark brown eyes fix the viewer, while his head tilts to the side, giving the impression that he is scrutinizing you, studying you.
A Christ who sized you up, maybe the way he sized up the chatty Samaritan woman at Jacob's well or the rich young man who thought so well of himself. Where are you now, viewer, he might be saying, what's going on in you, are you ready for me? What are you holding onto, what worthless baggage are you carrying so that you can't come my narrow way? You couldn't think of anything petty while in the purview of that calm, knowing, intelligent, and potentially redemptive gaze.
Here's a report from the eminent Michael Novak on the upcoming conclave: Italian press reports that Cardinal Ratzinger has the support of between 40 and 55 of the 77 cardinals needed to elect the next pope. Novak is properly cautious; remember the old saying "he who enters the conclave a Pope leaves as a Cardinal." Nonetheless, this seems to me an indication that, as Novak says, "The loyalty expressed by millions all around the world to John Paul II became so visible at the funeral that 'Continuator' is now the motif." I cannot wait to see how this plays out.
Finally, here are two older articles on the Pope: Novak, again, reporting on the funeral, and the message of the outpouring of affection:
It is not so much the doctrinal teachings that are here in question, but rather the love of our Lord Jesus Christ, and for all human beings through him, that Pope Wojtyla taught us. Fidelity to doctrine, yes, but first things first: It is the distinctive love that God himself brought into the world, the sun's flame of caritas, which Dante writes is "the Love that moves the sun and all the stars." It is this that fired our John Paul. He was a vessel of the love of Jesus Christ for the entire world. He was Jesus' vicar. His life among us was too short. We would have liked to enjoy his company, his strength, his laughter for all eternity. And now we shall. It is only here that we must live with sorrow a little while.
And a personal reflection by Larry Kudlow, a convert to Catholicism, on the role John Paul played, and continues to play, in his personal conversion:
But as the journey unfolds, my life keeps getting better and better. Materially, there are always ups and downs. But the spiritual life of faith sustains me each day. I have learned to be not afraid to follow this new path. I believe that’s what God wants me to do. He sent Pope John Paul II to all of us to preach this timeless message: Be not afraid. For that we will be eternally grateful.
More later, and I promise (or at least strongly hope!) there will be another installment upcoming on our continuing series on Distributism.
Wednesday, April 13, 2005
Last night the Requiem was performed at St. Agnes for the repose of the soul of Pope John Paul. As has been the case with so many of the ceremonies surrounding the death and burial of the Pope, it was a scene of indescribable drama (on the way home, Judie said it was too bad Anderson Cooper hadn't been able to see this). Three priests and two deacons, clad in scarlet red vestments. Forty altar boys. The papal flag, with a black ribbon at the top. The tolling church bells. A packed church - we were squeezed in there like sardines. And through it all, the magnificance of Mozart. To listen to the music is, as I said earlier, proof of genius; combined with the ancient rites of the Church, it becomes an almost overpowering experience.
On Sunday there had been a particularly appropriate portrait of John Paul at the Marian altar; it was not a formal portrait but an action shot showing the Holy Father, his arms upraised, speaking into a microphone. To me it seemed as if he were still talking to us, still teaching us, still reminding us, "Be Not Afraid." Last night this portrait had been replaced with another of the Pope; and this, too, was appropriate for the occasion. The picture, surrounded on the altar by Easter lillies, showed the Pope in his white vestments, deep in contemplative prayer, his eyes closed, his white figure shining out from a darkened backdrop, a modest figure when compared to the overall size of the picture.
Fr. Welzbacher's homily was a moving, stirring tribute. I have a feeling it was being recorded, and if so I'll post some highlights when it becomes available. The theme was clear, however: here was a great man, a courageous man, a towering historical figure, a man who lived his entire life as a witness to the faith and who gave his church and his people everything he had. He was an inspiration to the young, the future of the that church, and in that sense (as in so many others) the true fruits of his work are just beginning. He is already being called "John Paul the Great," a title which surely will be formalized, and will probably be pronounced a Doctor of the church as well. The shouts of "Santo!" at the funeral merely confirm what many think, that here was a living saint.
It is hard to believe that John Paul is in need of our prayers now; as Cardinal Ratzinger said, he is assuredly at the window of heaven looking down at us now. We offer them all the same, assured that Our Lord will use those prayers as He sees fit where they are most needed.
The people came to the altar rail for Communion as the formal portion of the Requiem wound down ("May eternal light shine on them, O Lord, with Thy saints for ever, because Thou art merciful. Grant the dead eternal rest, O Lord, and may perpetual light shine on them with Thy saints for ever, because Thou are merciful."). They continued to come, and when the Requiem ended the orchestra played an instrumental version of Ave Verum Corpus, and still they came. At the end of the two hour and five minute Mass the organ played solemnly, the procession left the sanctuary, and many who had come to worship stayed behind for a moment, perhaps looking at the portrait and offering a final prayer and a final goodbye to the Pope whom they had loved, and who had loved them.
Mozart's brilliance was truly a gift of God, and his Reqiuem is the artist returing that gift to Him from Whom it came. Some (probably the same ones who question the authorship of the Requiem) will remind us that Mozart was a member of the Masons, a group Catholics to this day are prohibited from joining. Again, I say that it matters little in the end, for when listening to proof of God's existance, all other thoughts are just killjoys.
Jarrett couldn't disagree with that more. Excerpt:
I think that it is a mistake to dub the Pope paradoxical, however. It is the parties that have the paradoxes. The Pope's positions are all in sympathy with one another. Why oppose totally unregulated free markets? Because they degrade human beings. Why oppose communist domination? Because it degrades human beings.
Consider stem cell research on human embryos. If the principle of human dignity is to be upheld (and applied to embryos as the church would have it) then embryonic stem cell research should not only be unfunded--it should be illegal. Neither party has the political stomach for that, which suggests that the political center of the brave new world debates is much further away from the church's teaching than on say, social safety nets or abortion. On biotech--and many related issues--it appears that neither party genuinely wants to stand with the church. None of that changes the fundamentally un-paradoxical nature of the Pope's teaching.
And that's it in a nutshell. Was the Pope a paradox? Sure, if you use worldly values as the standard. He was a paradox to a world that put its value in power and prestige, in wealth and material posessions, in self-satisfaction rather than self-sacrifice. If you're a political party that defines values to mean what wins votes, he was a paradox. If you're a corporate executive who looks at employees as units of commerce whose value is in helping to meet the bottom line, he was a paradox. If your job is to sell products regardless of, or in spite of, the harm they might cause to society, he was a paradox.
To the modern world, or large portions of it, he was a paradox. But then being a Christian has always meant being countercultural, moving against the tide. To live in this world and yet not be of the world is a paradox, if you measure it by worldly standards.
It was why people respected the Pope, and at the same time felt challenged by him. Rick Brookhiser once said of his George Washington biography Founding Father that if you had to reduce it to four words, they would be "He really meant it." People on both the right and left (perhaps the right more so) embraced John Paul, but there was often that moment of hesitation when they looked deeper into his thoughts and words and realized, "He really meant it."
So was the Pope's thinking paradoxical? Only for those who look at the small picture, who fail to realize that, as Shakespeare said, "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,/ Than are dreamt of in your philosophy."
Monday, April 11, 2005
Newsweek's technology columnist Steven Levy has declared that the lack of "diversity" among the web's most popular blogs requires corrective action. The goal? A blogosphere whose elite tier "reflects the actual population" — i.e., where female- and minority-written blogs are found among the top 100 blogs in the same proportion as females and minorities are found in the general population.
Keith Jenkins, a Washington Post photo editor, had warned during the conference, via e-mail, that the growth of blogging threatened minority gains in journalism. Whereas the mainstream media have gotten to "the point of inclusion," Jenkins wrote, the "overwhelmingly white and male American blogosphere [might] return us to a day where the dialogue about issues was a predominantly white-only one."
Levy's solution for women and minorities is a simple one: "'You have to post frequently . . . link prodigiously,' and, like one technology guru he describes, spend two hours daily writing your weblog and 'three more hours reading hundreds of other blogs.'"
First off, I'm going to admit that I don't spend that much time each day working on this blog. Sorry gang, but I don't. Of course, that could be because I'm a white male oppressior and therefore I don't have to work as hard to achieve such dominance.
But as MacDonald points out, there's a problem here:
How will the diversity-minded linker know the "identity" of a potential linkee? To be workable, a diversity-linkage program needs some sort of gatekeeper — precisely what the web has heretofore lacked. One can imagine something like a federal Digital Diversity Agency that would assign a diversity tattoo to each blog: a lavender pig, for example, signifying a white male blogger with an alternative sexual orientation. A mismatch between the diversity tattoo on a site and its content could trigger a federal audit to track down identity fraud. Let's say an allegedly black female site (tattooed with a black halo) canvassed technologies for sending humans to Mars. Regulators might find such content highly suspicious, since everyone knows that black females are supposed to write about black females.
Which brings us to Peter's question: Judie hasn't been posting too much lately; does this mean that I'm oppressing her somehow, preventing her from blogging in order to dominate the site myself? Do we need some kind of gatekeeper to make sure that our so-called "husband and wife" blog doesn't become too male-dominated? And shouldn't I be more careful about writing on issues that concern women?
For that matter, how do we even know that there is a Judie out there? For all anyone does know, I'm a lone wolf just pretending to have a wife who blogs. I could be committing some kind of identity fraud right before your eyes (or pixels, at any rate).
He jokes, of course, but you get the point of how ridiculous this is. Read the whole article for more. As Peter concludes, "It would be funny if it weren't so revealing."