Wednesday, June 29, 2005
MH - All Roads Lead to Rome
But then, everyone who turns toward Catholicism wants more...
MH - Give Me All Your Land, and Nobody Gets Hurt
This is taking the long route leading up to discussing last week's Kelo decision by SCOTUS. In case you haven't been following it (or if Kelo means nothing but a TV station to you, too) this was the decision on eminent domain that stated local governments could seize private property for economic redevelopment purposes by private as well as public concerns. (I'm sure I've gotten the legal niceties wrong there, but you probably know enough about the case so that you're not misled by me.)
I meant to blog on this last week, but a combination of internet problems and more unpacking kept me from it until tonight. There's been a lot of good discussion in the Catholic blogosphere (The Seventh Age links to some excellent commentary at Mirror of Justice). I doubt there's much I can add to it.
From a Catholic perspective, this is a terrible decision. Chesterton would have been appalled, as Jason at The Seventh Age mentions. Ownership of private property is one of the key elements of Distributism; it's one of the fundamental reasons why Distributism is not Socialism. Leo XIII's encyclical Rerum Novarum lays the foundation as follows:
To remedy these wrongs the socialists, working on the poor man's envy of the rich, are striving to do away with private property, and contend that individual possessions should become the common property of all, to be administered by the State or by municipal bodies.
Aquinas would have frowned mightily. (Jason's right; Secunda Secundae, q. 66, art. 1,2,7). While one could argue that economic development in general helps everyone in a community (a rising tide lifts all boats), in fact the poor are the ones who stand to be hurt by decisions like this. The blogger Cacciaguida (HT: Eve Tushnet) picks out a pertinent section of Justice Thomas' dissent, referring to it as follows:
[I]f "economic development" is a "public use," then low-cost housing will always be a tempting target for city planners and state business promoters -- so, guess whose houses will usually be the first to face the combination of a check and a wrecking ball.
From any perspective of Catholic social teaching, this would appear to be a gravely flawed decision. Private property was also one of the principles most dearly held by the Founders, which is a nice thing to reflect on as we approach Independence Day. What would John Adams have thought of this?
I bring this up mostly because I've seen first-hand what kind of damage a debate like this can do to a city. I was living in Richfield (a first-tier suburb of Minneapolis) during the years when the city used the threat of eminent domain to acquire the property needed to build the Best Buy corporate headquarters. I don't recall if the city actually had to do it in order to get all the land that was needed, but the threat was definitely there.
The rationale for targeting these neighborhoods for redevelopment was that they had become blighted, and thus a drag on the city's tax base. A couple of auto dealerships were also affected by the decision. You can read a very good summary of the whole thing here, and read about the court case (it went all the way to the state Supreme Court) here if you're interested.
It's true that these tended to be older neighborhoods, but they were by no means slums. To the extent that some of the houses became run-down, this can in part be explained by the uncertainty under which many people were living, once it became known that the city had targeted this area for possible future redevelopment under the Comprehensive Plan. (Full disclosure: I served on the city's Planning Commission and voted in favor of the Comprehensive Plan. In my defense, I saw the development opportunities as reactive more than proactive; coming from a natural transition of land use as land became available, rather than an aggressive buy-out.)
At any rate, this became quite a divisive issue within the city. Many people defended the city's decision, citing the stabilization of the tax base, the introduction of new jobs into the area, and Best Buy's pledge to become a responsible corporate neighbor. Many attacked the decision, pointing to the lives being uprooted, the difficulty (even with a fair price being paid) for homeowners and small businesses to purchase comperable homes and/or land, and the questionable means used to arrive at the legal determination of blight that allowed the city to move ahead.
Probably the biggest factor for the opponents of the plan was the arrogance displayed by the city and its supporters. I think that arrogance was what made the subsequent debate so personal and so vicious. There were competing ad campaigns, nasty personal letters to the editor, a few acts of vandalism, some broken friendships, and dirty campaigns pitting the mayor and council incumbents against a slate of reform candidates. It was the nastiness of this whole thing, the way it poisoned the political and social atmosphere of Richfield, that really brought home to me how politics would never again be the way it was when I'd first gotten into it.
The whole thing was ugly, and if SCOTUS thinks the best way for opponents of eminent domain to deal with it is by voting out the incumbents, it's going to get uglier. But more than that, this decision sets the stage for a great injustice to be committed in this country by the unholy alliance of Big Business and Big Government. In the best tradition of local governmental control (at least the Founders would have approved of this), legislators at the city and state level must step up and enact legislation that prevents this kind of land theft. It is a perfect example of how the natural law as expressed in Catholic social teaching can inform the thinking that goes into making a legislative decision. Justice demands that the rights of the people be protected from these outrages, and on that I feel quite sure Aquinas, Adams, and Chesterton would have agreed.
MH - Catholic Carnival XXXVI
Tuesday, June 28, 2005
MH - The Supreme Court's Commandment
Well, there isn't much I can say. I wasn't surprised. I think they were wrong. I don't think this will end the matter.
We've already established that SCOTUS (along with an alarming number of people) totally misunderstand the Establishment Clause of the Constitution. Do they do this unwittingly, having fallen into the conventional trap, or do they not realize what they are doing? I do think Souter's statement that "The touchstone for our analysis is the principle that the 'First Amendment mandates governmental neutrality between religion and religion, and between religion and nonreligion,'" was absurd. Particularly lacking was his suggestion that because religion had become so divisive in society, all the more reason to practice tolerance of other faiths. This may well be true in personal practice, but allowing the current passions of the public to influence your interpretation of the Constitution is not, I believe, what the Founding Fathers had in mind.
Scalia's dissent was (as usual) brilliant, witty, and pungent. One of the commentators last night summarized his thoughts as follows: the majority opinion owes more to the French Constituion than the American. His vote was no surprise; as Fox noted, "Scalia, Rehnquist and Thomas have all said that there is nothing wrong with government asserting God's supremacy, while the other justices on the court believe doing so would be to the exclusion of Americans of other faiths or no faiths, and is therefore unconstitutional."
What this, and so many bad decisions during this term, points out is the importance of the judge in this age of judicial tyranny. It underlines the reason many Republicans have had for supporting Bush and a Republican majority - control of the appointments process. Of course, what they didn't tell us during those campaigns was that having a majority doesn't mean a thing when it's a Republican one, what with the half-hearted liberal Republicans who vote with the Democrats on key issues, or the faint-hearted Republicans who try so desperately to shy away from controversy when it comes up.
Yes, the next Supreme Court nomination will be a crucial one. Bush's choice will be important, but so will the reactions of Republicans and Democrats in the Senate. I would think that Bush will go the route of confrontation and nominate a conservative, rather than a moderate who might face an easier confirmation (although, keeping in mind the death wish of the Stupid Party, you can't take this for granted). One can hope to sway a few Democrat votes to support the nominee; it's the Republicans that conservatives have to worry about.
More commentary over at The Seventh Age. I wonder what Billy Graham thinks about this? I have no doubt about where Bill and Hil stand.
MH - Thoughts on Billy Graham
(For those of you who haven't read it: "They're a great couple," [Graham] said. "I told an audience that I felt when he left the presidency he should be an evangelist because he has all the gifts and he'd leave his wife to run the country.")
Two things of interest: First was the CNN "People in the News" profile of Graham on Sunday night. I thought it was surprisingly even-handed, even complimentary. It did make a point of how Graham had shied away from politics ever since his time with Richard Nixon. The suggestion (well, more than a suggestion) was that Nixon was trying to use Graham and his followers for political advantage. Methinks that might be a bit too cynical - I don't doubt that Nixon was trying to do that, but I don't think that's the only interest he had in Graham (Graham did, after all, preside at the funerals of both Richard and Pat Nixon). At any rate, the point here is that what we're left with, according to CNN (and others), is the apolitical Graham - reluctant to delve into any moral issue (such as homosexual marriage and radical Islam) that has overly divisive political rammifications.
Were one to accept this viewpoint, therefore, it would come as something of a shock and surprise to hear Graham's comments on Sunday regarding the Clintons. Was he sincere? Kidding? Trying to be polite? As always, you can't read what's in someone's heart; you can only judge them by their public statements, and in this case it would probably be disrespecting Graham to take his words at anything less than face value. Certainly, the clips will show up when CNN updates their documentary. But perhaps of more interest is what wasn't included in the show.
I found it surprising (or maybe not) that CNN skipped over the controversy Graham generated in 1982 with his claim that "[t]here are many differences in religion here and in the way it is practiced in the United States. But that does not mean there is no religious freedom in the Soviet Union." (Yes, I know this link comes from a Bob Jones University site, but I wanted to post the quote here, lest anyone think it so outrageous that I was making it up.)
Now, this was a tremendously controversial statement at the time. Many who were fighting for freedom in the Soviet Union saw it as a disasterous propaganda coup for the Communists. But I don't recall hearing much about that this week. Instead, we heard about Graham agreeing with Nixon's comments that Jewish domination of the media had to stop.
So perhaps it shouldn't come as such a surprise that the Rev. Graham, in his final moments on the public stage, should come up with another disconcerting statement. But for all the talk, from CNN and others, about how Graham had left politics behind to concentrate on the saving message of the Gospel, why would he choose this time, when the eyes of the world were on him in a way unique in the past few years, to do such a thing? You can't tell me it wasn't a political statement.
Let me add that when it comes to Billy Graham, I don't have any axe to grind. Living in Minneapolis, for so many years the world headquarters of the Graham organization, I've long been familiar with him. His Sunday night radio show was long a staple on the clear-channel giant WCCO. I even saw him at his last crusade in Minneapolis, when over 90,000 packed the Metrodome. It was a memorable moment. He was respectful to Catholics and had many good things to say about John Paul II (even though he disagreed with him on theological matters, he had nothing but praise for the man). So I'm not inclined to let this Clinton remark rest as the final memory I have of him.
Neither, however, would I be inclined to let it drift away into the mists of memory. It was an unfortunate statement - not simply for its political reverberations, but because of all the ways the Clintons seem to have lived their lives in such contradiction to the message that Billy Graham spent his life preaching.
Monday, June 27, 2005
MH - Cruising Along
MH - I Scream, You Scream, We All Scream
Featuring Dissimint, Banana Schism Split, Easter Sundae, and more. Check it out - it's a hoot!
Wednesday, June 22, 2005
MH - Dennis Miller, Seminarian
Jeff finds this - let's call it ironic. Like him, I find some of Miller's political positions to be quite good. (I particularly remember a guest on his late talk show saying that the problem with the rash of school shootings might be related to kids getting filled with "too much self-esteem." I can't think of many people in TV with the guts to broach such a subject.) However, as Jeff says, Miller is no social conservative, and in fact he spends a good amount of time ridiculing the Catholic Church.
Man, does this remind me of the problems with Derbyshire I spoke of earlier this week. These guys have so much good to say, but then you run into problems over issues that are so fundamental to the composition of someone's character. It's one thing to disagree over, let's say, football teams or movies. You can still respect someone who roots for the Cowboys, for example, even if you favor the Redskins. But when you start to disagree over the concept of life itself and the dignity of the human being, it gets harder and harder to remain on cordial terms. Reminds me of what someone said to Charles Manson prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi (it might have been Manson himself) about how Charlie respected life - after all, he loved animals. Yeah, Bugliosi replied - and Hitler loved dogs.
Speaking of Derb, his latest question is whether or not it's proper to call a Catholic a "Papist." Amy covers this on her blog, and the exchange in the comments section is fascinating. I myself don't object - after all, I've got my Ratzinger Fan Club "Proud 2 B Papist" bumper-sticker - and I'd really, really like to believe that it's an innocent question from Derb. I want to like him. But considering how provocative he's been on issues important to us, I just don't know. People judge you by your actions, all you have left is your reputation. You kind of burn your good will; know what I mean?
MH - Hollywood's Ways Are Not Our Ways
Speaking of which, I saw this story at Fox which casts some sinister overtones on the whole Cruise-Holmes situation. Deprogrammer, anyone? (Note to lawyers: I'm not suggesting anything. I'm merely pointing out that if one were writing a story about a fictitious "cult" one might suggest a plot such as this.) Thanks to Amy for opening it up to comments.
MH - Organ Transplants
Tuesday, June 21, 2005
MH - Hear Them Roar!
Now if the Detroit and Vancouver football teams could do so well…
MH - The Price That Must Be Paid
Recent evidence suggests that capital punishment may have a significant deterrent effect, preventing as many as 18 murders for each execution, say Cass Sunstein and Adrian Vermeule of the AEI-Brookings Joint Center for Regulatory Studies.Now, this is interesting; as Rich suggests:
Capital punishment presents a life-life tradeoff where a refusal to impose capital punishment could result in a significant increase in the number of deaths of innocent people. In other words, unjustified killing is exactly what capital punishment prevents, say the authors.
What does this say to JPII’s viewpoint that the death penalty was no longer necessary to protect society? I raised this point a whlie back [Seamless Garment], and Rich’s post certainly triggered an interesting (and high-level) discussion in the comments box, one that indirectly brings up further interesting questions. Someone mentions that JPII had ruled out deterrence as a legitimate justification for capital punishment. Now, if I understand correctly, this is the same argument that many make in calling the Iraq War an unjust war – that deterrence is not an acceptable rationalization for war.
My question – and I don’t know the answer – is this: in our modern age, when nuclear weapons in the hands of rogue nations or terrorist organizations has radically changed the nature of warfare, do we need to reexamine the question of pre-emptive or deterrent warfare? I understand the argument against this, that deterrence by definition can mean anticipating a result and acting accordingly, with no guarantee that the anticipation can be proven to have been correct; but often we do make that determination when dealing with self-defense. A policeman shouts to a suspect to freeze. The suspect reaches toward his pocket as if to pull something out. The policeman may decide that the suspect is going for his gun, and shoots him. Now, the suspect may have had a gun, and he may have been trying to pull out his wallet to show his ID. The shooting is sure to be controversial, but oftentimes the cop is given the benefit of the doubt. He had to act based on the information at hand, with a limited time to decide.
Some will argue that war is more important; that more time must be taken, that more information must be gathered. On the other hand, the reaction time has decreased dramatically. More and more lives are at stake. Is deterrence a basis for just war, and if so, what is the level of information required to make a proper decision?
MH - Catholic Carnival XXXV Is Up!
MH - Out of the Past, Part II
Last night on “What's My Line,” the guest was a young man who signed in as “Tom
Eagleton.” Could it be? It was. His line was “District Attorney for St. Louis,” and he was 27. (The episode aired in 1957, I think.) Right from the Jack Webb line of lawmen, too—square head, flat hair, G-man stare, thin tie, a smile that was rare but genuine. He was followed by Mamie Van Doren, a breathy va-va-va-voomer who performed the odd facial alphabet of the 50s sex siren—the moue, the wink, the coquettish smile, the wide eyes, the teasing glance. And she ran through the sequence again and again, a performance completely disconnected from the questions. It was like watching a prototype Sexbot stuck in an programming loop. She really was from another era—a time when the sex stars had hips like oven doors, hair the color of astronaut suits, brains the size of ant thoraxes, and a life of giddy leisure that revolved around small, portable dogs, beefy Pepsodent morons, pink convertibles, and the purchase of ceramic cat statuary with long necks. A bratwurst to Paris Hilton's Slim Jim….
As I keep saying, it brings cultural history to another level to see these things in context, rather than in the sometimes dry pages of a history book. Of course, that presupposes you youngsters out there remember who Tom Eagleton was. (I’ve no doubt you won’t have any problem remembering Mamie Van Doren…)
MH - Out of the Past
It's the issue of August 26, 1972. There's an article about Bobby Darin and his new television show - interesting, in light of having seen Beyond the Sea last month. Although the TV series wasn't covered in the movie, there's nothing in this article that particularly contradicts anything depicted in the film (although it does mention that he actually divorced Sandra Dee and was living with another woman at the time of the interview).
Then there's an article called "Hitchhiking on the Road to Success," about a "young would-be director" named "Steve Spielberg." That's right, the Steven Spielberg, with long hair and minus the beard. He's an experience TV director, coming off the fame from his TV movie Duel, but at this point hasn't even made a big-screen movie. The question raised in the article: "Why does every television director, with access to 50 or 60 million peiople, still yearn for a movie feature that might reach five million if it's a smash hit?" I guess "Steve" answered that question, didn't he?
For those of you interested in obscure sports, there's the weekly series covering the Bobby Fischer-Boris Spassky world chess championship (on PBS, of course). Hard to remember now just what a sensation this was at the time - the Cold War transported to a chess board. It offers us a glimpse of the eccentric Fischer, perhaps the Howard Hughes of the sports world, a brilliant champion whose life since seems to have devolved into one erratic, oddball encounter after another.
Finally, it's the opening of the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich. The opening ceremonies are telecast live at 9:00 a.m. Central time on Saturday morning (imagine TV doing that nowadays). However, the most interesting thing is this eerie paragraph at the conclusion of the article previewing TV coverage of the games:
The atmosphere surrounding the Games should be thick with Bavarian Gemutlichkeit. A German Olympic official has promised, "We know only too well that crimes have been committed in the German name, and how many people have suffered . . . These Olympics will be what they are supposed to be: the great meeting of the youth of the world; of the new, hopefully enlightened generation; and thus a small contribution to world peace."
I imagine in the chaos that followed - the hostage taking, the massacre of the Israeli athletes, the shootout at the airport, Jim McKay's memorable marathon coverage of the tragedy - not very many people recalled this paragraph, and thus its impact is greater to us today, knowing as we do what will be happening in the days to come. This issue - an original cultural document - has a timelessness, a sense of context, that is often missing in the dry words of a history book written long after the fact.
Cultural history, from the pages of TV Guide.
Monday, June 20, 2005
MH - The Discerning Reader
Most of the time I really like Derbyshire - he's a witty, elegant writer who, like me, tends to be pessimistic about culture, about the future. But in his Schiavo posts it appears to me as if he’s increasingly taking sides with those who are doing so much to create the culture he so laments. Derbyshire's not what you could call pro-Catholic, and he's made it clear he's not a pro-lifer; I think the best you can say is that he tolerates us (some of his best friends are pro-lifers). Throughout the entire Schiavo situation he's sided with those who wanted to starve Terri - he could not accept that there was any value in her continuing to be kept alive (and, in fact, he said he wouldn't be opposed to the idea of a lethal injection to put her out of her, well, I suppose her "misery," although he would figure that being a vegetable, she wouldn't feel anything at all). And today, he suggests he'd contribute to a Michael Schiavo defense fund if one became available. In doing so, I find it harder and harder to make that identification with him, the kind of identification that is so important for a writer when he's trying to communicate ideas to his readers.
The problem with something like this, of course, is twofold. First, you begin to lose respect for someone as an individual. One of the reasons I got out of competitive politics (in much the same way as Jack Nicklaus retires from competitive golf; that doesn’t mean he doesn’t dabble in it or take interest from time to time) was that it tends to dictate your friendships and associations. It’s very difficult to stay friends with someone you disagree with over important points, not to mention the difficulty you have explaining these friendships to members of your own group. So in general I like to overlook political differences in personal associations, and the same goes with someone whose work I admire. But what happens when you’re at odds over such a fundamental concept of the meaning of life – the building blocks of your philosophy, so to speak? Presumably one can agree to disagree over the issue, although I increasingly find that difficult to accept – it strikes at the heart of your very understanding of life. However, when it surpasses a mere disagreement – when it becomes an active participation, as in Derbyshire’s suggestion – then it becomes nearly impossible to reconcile such actions and maintain any kind of relationship.
Second, you start to ask yourself whether or not you can depend on anything this person says, when you have such a fundamental disagreement over an important issue. You start to pick and choose your agreements cafeteria-style (something us orthodox Catholics have always criticized when it comes to teachings of the Church) with the result that you begin to wonder how much you can depend on this person’s opinion at all. After all, if you find someone's judgement lacking in one area, how can you say that this same person's judgement is superior in another area? John Cornwell wrote a book a few years ago that debunked charges that Pope John Paul I was murdered - but this is the same Cornwell who constantly attacks the record and character of Pope Pius XII. What's a person to do?
This brings me to this post from Michelle Arnold at Jimmy Akin's blog on what she calls "the purity tests," the idea that one would only read writers whose opinions conform to that of the reader. Rather than a purity test, Michelle suggests a "purity filter":
Learn the faith well enough from orthodox sources to filter out the impurities while still accepting and benefiting from the good stuff an otherwise problematic resource can offer. If there is a question about whether a particular idea or claim is valid or should be trapped by the filter, then call on orthodox resources -- such as Catholic Answers -- to help figure out what the Church teaches or requires on the subject. A particular resource may end up entirely worthless and be thrown out. Some stuff, though, may be problematic but still useful.
So what is the point of all this? Just that, as I've said so many times in the past, it is important for Catholics to be educated in the faith. We must learn to tell truth from fiction - to keep from being misled, to correct misunderstandings that others might have, and to hold our own in debates with those who disagree with us.
John Derbyshire is wrong, very wrong, when it comes to matters of life. It affects the way we read his other pieces, and the way we feel about him. We can try to convince him otherwise, although we may have limited success in that area. We can pray for him that he have an epiphany, although I think we'll have to pray hard. We can stop reading him all together, in which case we'll be safe from his wrongheaded opinions, at the risk of missing out on some of his good ones, and his generally genial disposition. Or we can meet him on his own terms - become familiar with the facts, counteract his mistaken opinions, and not be afraid to defend the truth by entering into debate with those who share his feelings. Just because you lose some respect for someone doesn't mean you can afford to ignore him completely. And as we all know, where there's life there's hope.
It's just too bad The Derb is committed to snuffing out some of that hope.
MH - I Love the Smell of Napalm in the Morning...
…but, come to think of it, there are times when I feel like I’ve been in the jungle trying to escape…
MH - Show Me the Money
I’m curious: Is his belief that destroying the embryo is not taking a life based on philosophical, religious, or economic grounds?
Regardless, this illustrates what I’ve been saying about Corporate America for so long – the bottom line is making a buck, and there are very, very few ethical or moral considerations that can measure up to that. As Amy says, follow the money…
MH - Formula for Disaster
A couple of observations: first of all, the superiority of the Speed TV crew in covering the event, especially when you compare it to the ABC crew that was at Indy last week. Knowledgeable, witty, smooth. If nothing else, I hope someone at ABC tunes in to these Grand Prix races and gets the message.
Second, this could well be the death knell for Formula One in this country, at least for the time being. It's too big a market for them to be able to write off completely, but this sure leaves a bad taste in everyone's mouth. They don't really understand Americans very well - we (that is, F1 racing fans) won't forget this soon. Americans don't buy apologies, unless they come from attractive celebrities with coying smiles talking to Barbara Walters or Jay Leno.
I always said it would be a cold day when someone came along and made Congress look competent by comparison - the devil must be shivering in his overcoat today.
MH - Catholic Carnival Is Up!
Wednesday, June 15, 2005
MH - The Dilemma for the Democrats
LaBash’s article dovetails into the points I’ve made again and again in the past: the stakes for the Democrats should they continue to refuse to realize how they alienate a significant part of the populace:
Mudcat thinks that the party has turned away from one of its natural constituencies — white southern Christians (called “Bubbas”) — and is now paying for it. He wants Dems to soft-peddle some cultural issues such as gay marriage and cast themselves as a culturally sane, economically populist (i.e., interventionist but not entirely predictable) party. There are plenty of antics in the article, but it’s worth remembering that Mudcat helped Mark Warner win the Virginia gubernatorial election in a state that trends Republican.
So if it’s this obvious, you might ask, why don’t the Dems do it? The popular theory is that they’re afraid of alienating their special-interest bases (and by “them,” I’m referring to the Dems who tend to be more pragmatic than ideological dogmatists), but Mudcat ain’t buying that:
“Politics is about addition, that’s all it is. It’s not difficult,” he says, giving me a primer on Mudcat math. “If I go get a white male,” he asks, “how many votes do I get?” One, I reply. “No,” he says impatiently, “I get two. Because I just took one away from Republicans.”
It is the most elegantly simple precept, he says, one that could end the Democratic drought, and yet they don’t see it because they think targeting Bubba males alienates their base and smacks of racism. “No it doesn’t,” he says. “My African-American friends want to win as much as I do. . . . Democrats are insane. They say Republicans are insane, but they win. I don’t see anything insane about winning.”
And they used to say it was conservatives that would rather be right than president. I don’t think any changes are imminent, but it’s a subject that’s constantly fascinating.
MH - Terri's Autopsy Report
Lest you think this is the end, sadly it is not. Keep reading Blogs for Terri for details on what you can do about cases such as that of Scott Thomas, whose wife is trying to have his feeding tube removed after a mysterious “accident.”
UPDATE: Fr. Rob has MSM spin correction here. There's also critical commentary on the autopsy at Blogs for Terri.
MH - Michael Who?
Tuesday, June 14, 2005
MH - Of Thee I Sing?
You get spoiled at a church like St. Agnes – it’s like being inside on a bright day; when you step out into the sunshine, all you can do is blink. It gives you the luxury of being allowed to forget about everything “out there,” and as a result I always get discouraged reading about the problems other people have at their parishes, with guitars, bongo drums, and all sorts of ridiculous stuff. And then I remember why we wound up at St. Agnes in the first place, for at our previous parish the same thing was happening. Maybe we didn’t have bongos, but we did have the contemporary choir at the early Mass, with their guitar and folk Masses from Gather, featuring songs that sing of how great we are for deigning to listen to God. Even at the late Mass with the “traditional” choir, we were forced to hear the Haugen arrangements for the proper, including the Agnus Dei that substitutes “bread of life” and just about everything else under the sun in place of “Lamb of God.” If you’re familiar with this site, you know what I mean.
We’d gone through a period of “parish shopping” after finding the three Catholic churches in our immediate area were all lacking to some extent, and the parish we wound up in was the best of the six or seven we’d visited (we hadn’t tried St. Agnes yet; we’d heard of it, but at the time thought it was too far from where we were living). After I’d converted, I was filled with that gusto that comes from having made a life-changing decision, and I was just excited to attend Mass every Sunday. It wasn’t until I became more knowledgeable about the liturgy and the rubrics that I started to sense not all was right. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing, and when you become well-read enough to start questioning what you’re seeing, discontent is bound to follow. Once we’d tried St. Agnes (at the encouragement of one of Judie’s co-workers) and saw the beauty of the liturgy the way it was meant to be, it became that much harder to return to our own parish.
It wasn’t just a matter of becoming more knowledgeable, though. There’s no question that things changed during those. Things did decline; there was a strong charismatic movement active in the parish, and over time the members began to form a stronger attachment to the movement than they did to the parish. The grade school was another focal point; oftentimes, the church seemed to exist for the school, rather than the other way around. Women played a powerful role at the church; some of them were known to favor ordination of women priests.
Be that as it may, the fact remains that the liturgy did decline during the years we attended that parish. You might ask whether we did anything to prevent it. The answer is no, and you’re absolutely right that perhaps we should have. In my defense, I will say that it would have been a futile gesture; there was no great discontent on the part of most in the parish, the priest (a genuinely good man) wanted to avoid confrontations of any kind, and some inside information I had strongly suggested that fighting the trend would actually have been counter-productive. So after much prayer, soul-searching, and asking for advice from others, we made the decision to transfer to St. Agnes. We haven’t looked back since.
But back to the original topic – singing in church. It would seem that this is one of the most divisive of all liturgical disagreements. Our pastor emeritus at St. Agnes, Msgr. Schuler, has written at great length and intellect on the qualities that make music sacred (and therefore suitable for liturgical use – see here and here for some examples). Msgr. Schuler sums up for many the state of current Catholic music:
Thus the hymn has replaced the settings of the Mass texts; the congregation has been substituted for the choir; the vernacular has superceded the Latin language; the guitar and piano have pushed aside the pipe organ and the orchestra. What is left of the treasury of sacred music for the parish liturgy? Four hymns!
Then-Cardinal Ratzinger has stated that one can actively participate through listening as well as singing; in this sentence he speaks of the role of the choir:
Once again Harnoncourt has brought an important part into play when he speaks of elevated forms that cannot be missing in the Liturgy as God's celebration, but whose high demands cannot be satisfied by the congregation as a whole. He goes on to say, 'The choir, therefore, is not standing before a community which is listening like an audience that lets itself be sung to, but is itself part of the community and sings for it in the sense of legitimately representing it or standing in for it.'
The Twin Cities Catholic Chorale that sings at St. Agnes represents the congregation very well indeed.
Occasionally we’ll take in one of the orchestral Masses at Holy Childhood, another excellent church in St. Paul that has a rich musical heritage (a former music director was the noted composer and conductor Richard Proulx). Childhood does the Mass in the vernacular, but prides itself on being a “Vatican II Church,” that does a reverent Novus Ordo. It’s particularly nice to go to Childhood at Christmastime, when we sing some of the more familiar hymns (“We Three Kings,” “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” etc.), and I’ll admit those are the times when I miss singing in church.
On the other hand, we also from time to time attend the indult Tridentine Mass at St. Augustine in South St. Paul, where the pastor is Fr. John Paul Echert of ewtn.com fame. There the Mass is usually a low one, with no chanting or singing at all, and one becomes a first-hand witness to the power of silence, especially during the Canon. The stillness becomes a sound unto itself; one can fairly sense the collective participation of the congregation in that ethereal quiet.
But Sunday in, Sunday out, there is nothing for us like the beauty of the liturgy at St. Agnes. Whether it’s the orchestral strains of Mozart and Hayden, the polyphony of Palestrina, or the simple Gregorian chant, the fact remains that we do participate by listening to, and sharing in, the beauty of the music. When we celebrate God in our music, rather than celebrating ourselves, we achieve, as Msgr. Schuler says, “the highest form of human artistic endeavor, worthy of God and His worship.”
MH - Change Coming For Papal Masses?
Monday, June 13, 2005
MH - The Price of Discipleship
Today is also the feast day of St. Anthony of Padua, who was inspired to become a Franciscan by the witness of martyred Franciscan missionaries. This speaks to us in a loud voice about the importance of being a witness, of setting an example for others. We can never know how our actions affect others, and oftentimes something, which we might consider trivial or insignificant, can play a big role in the life of someone else.
Those two items – the readings and St. Anthony – raise once again the question of what it means to be a Christian witness. I’ve written about this in the past, when discussing the responsibility that politicians have to allow their faith to inform their behavior as elected representatives. But it’s not only the politician who has this obligation, as we see when we consider the question of role models. And in considering this, I was reminded – maybe because he’s been all over TV covering the NBA playoffs – of the comments made a few years ago by Charles Barkley, the former NBA star.
Barkley, along with many celebrities, has been vehement that well-known public figures should not be looked at as role models for children. Better, according to Sir Charles, that this role be filled by parents or others closer to the kids. Well, he’s got it half right. As parents are the first teachers of their children, so also they should serve as outstanding role models. I don’t think anyone would disagree that children tend to draw their first lessons in life from their parents; hence, a child who grows up in a loving family, who looks up to his or her parent(s), is given a real head start in life. Remember the old saying “Like Father, Like Son”?
The truth is that famous people are under the spotlight, and sometimes the heat from that light can get pretty uncomfortable. It forces you into certain types of behavior, conforming to certain standards that might not have been of your own choosing and which you might think cuts into your freedom. I recall Tom Baker, the actor who for seven years played Doctor Who on British TV, once telling an interviewer that he was very careful not to be seen smoking cigars in public, lest he send the wrong message to kids. Baker was fine with it; he realized that being the Doctor to millions (and making a nice living in the meantime) carried certain responsibilities with it. There was a trade-off, and he agreed to it.
This is about sending a message, something that celebrities should be familiar with, since so many of them do commercials and other kinds of advertising for products. Presumably, one of the reasons famous people are hired to endorse products is in hopes of influencing the behavior of the buying public. Does that make them role models? The advertisers hope so – if Tiger Woods advertises Wheaties, you’d better believe General Mills hopes kids imitate his behavior.
In the same way, Christians proclaim the Gospel by their public behavior – we carry the Word of God to people, hoping that when they hear of His love for them, they will imitate His behavior. Part of being a good Christian is acting like one, setting a good example for others. “By their fruits ye shall know them.” Guess what, that makes us all role models, whether we like it or not.
Barkley does have his defenders, such as the writer David Shaw, who had this to say about Barkley’s words:
More and more, athletes and celebrities are being looked at as people who have been given a great power, a great voice and must use it in some positive way. Why? Just because we, as a people, adore them and fawn over them, clamoring for autographs or photo ops, Tiger Woods should have to tell me that smoking causes cancer? The fact that I am a big fan of Frank Thomas, does not mean I want him telling me how much water I should drink per day or how much sunlight causes melanoma.Again, there’s an element of truth in what Shaw says. I agree with him that Tiger Woods shouldn’t be made to speak out on something if he doesn’t want to. I’ve always had a problem with celebrities, be they movie stars or athletes or anyone else in the public eye, using their fame to advance a particular cause. It’s true that just because Brad Pitt might feel a particular way about some issue, that doesn’t make his opinion any more valuable (or correct) than anyone else’s. Now, Shaw might think that’s all there is to this discussion, but it’s not. Being a role model consists of more than political beliefs, or commercial endorsements.
For example, Russell Crowe either did or didn’t whack that hotel guy with a telephone last week. Now, I’m inclined to like Russell Crowe, but I don’t think what he did was a particularly bright thing to do. However, if his name was Ronald Sparrow and he did the same thing, that wouldn’t make it any the less worse. Whether we like it or not, our behavior has consequences – our credibility, our trustworthiness, our dependability; all of these depend on the way we behave. If we’re habitually late to work, if we’re unreliable, if we goof off during the day, we’re probably limiting our chances to get that raise or promotion. It might be true that we’re loving and devoted spouses and parents; we might give 20% of our income to our church, we might feed widows and orphans during the weekend. Nevertheless, our bosses probably don’t know any of that, and it might not make much difference if they did. They’re going to judge us based on what they see in the office, and in this case what they’re seeing isn’t very good.
They also know that as employees, our behavior reflects on the company. If your only contact with the Acme Company is through a sales representative who acts like a complete jerk, you’re probably not going to have a very positive impression of Acme. Likewise, if you’ve been abused by a Catholic priest or know someone who has, you might not feel too kindly about the Church. This gets to the heart of sin, and why it is so important. Our actions don’t only affect us; they affect those around us, those whom we care for and who care for us. Sin weakens not just us; it weakens the entire body of Christ that is the Church. It affects our relationship with God, and through that our relationship with others. In short, there is no such thing as a purely private act, nor is there any such thing as an act without consequences. To suggest that people are not affected by the behavior they witness, whether by celebrities or unknowns, is naïve in the extreme.
Shaw concludes his column as follows:
Tiger Woods is an athlete, not a role model. He's not your anesthesiologist, he's not your psychologist, he's not really any kind of –ist. Assigning undue responsibilities to a star that the American public has created is not the way to affect social change. Head the words of Charles Barkley, but make them your own. Don't let the athletes and actors of your life be role models, be better than that.
And here he’s dead wrong, for in fact Tiger Woods is a role model. So is Charles Barkley. And, whether he likes it or not, so is David Shaw. The truth is that we’re all role models to the extent that we are stewards of the Gospel according to the words of Christ. And stewardship carries a burden. It presents you with an obligation you must honor.
For the property owner, it means taking care of that property. For those with pets, they have to subscribe to a humane way of treatment. The wealthy have a moral obligation to share that wealth in some way with the less fortunate. Parents have to do a conscientious job raising their children. And all of us have the moral duty to measure our behavior in public as it reflects against us, and our beliefs.
We are all role models, and not just for children. Our late Holy Father John Paul II was a role model for teaching us how to face death with dignity. The war hero who puts his life on the line in defense of his country is a role model. The teacher who sacrifices her private time to tutor a needy student, she’s a role model. I don’t think that Shaw or Barkley would disagree with these statements.
But for the Christian, discipleship means being a witness to the truth that is Christ. If we preach our faithfulness to His word on Sunday, but live an immoral life during the week, what kind of a witness are we? Anyone looking at us might ask just what kind of truth it is we believe in, and how important that truth is when we can’t be bothered to pay any attention to it. Shaw and Barkley miss the point entirely in suggesting that celebrities do not have an obligation to the public. It might be a greater obligation because they’re well-known, but in fact Barkley would have the same obligation if he was in a country where nobody had ever seen or heard of him and didn’t have any idea who he was. You and I don’t get free passes just because nobody knows who we are.
Tell me just what the difference is between being a witness and a role model? Just as discipleship and stewardship call us to a closer relationship with God by tending to His sheep, don’t we also serve as witnesses to the faith by being role models for those sheep?
According to Barkley and Shaw, I’m deprived of being a role model because I don’t have any children. I’m not a teacher, a police officer, or a fireman. Aside from my family and friends and the people I work with, not very many people recognize me. “But your Father who sees in secret will repay you,” and don’t think I don’t keep that in mind every day. That’s not to say that I don’t falter from time to time, but it’s not because I don’t know what’s expected of me.
Undoubtedly there are those who’ll say I’m making too much of a thing about this. I don’t think so; I’m not the only one who disagreed with Barkley’s comments. It’s true that both Barkley and Shaw were right in some areas; the primacy of parents, for example, and how too many parents out there are more than willing to let others be the role models for their kids.
But they’re wrong, wrong, wrong in suggesting that celebrities aren’t role models, and ironically they’re wrong for the right reason. Their argument is that celebrities aren’t any different than anyone else, and they’re right. We’re all role models; we all have an obligation to be witnesses to our faith through our thoughts, words, and deeds. So take heart. Brad Pitt and J-Lo aren’t any different from you or me.
On second thought, maybe we should be very, very afraid…
MH - They Just Don't Get It
In the meantime, Peter Wood has a good article on NRO today about Wachovia Corporation’s “apology” for their connection with slavery. It’s a tenuous connection at best – the Georgia Railroad Company (which through a tangled series of mergers wound up as part of Wachovia) “owned or authorized to be purchased” 162 slaves between 1836 and 1842. Another company now part of Wachovia, the Bank of Charleston, “accepted ‘up to 529’ slaves as collateral for securing loans or mortgages.”
So Wachovia apologized for their role in the whole thing. Here’s a priceless gem from Stan Kelly, president of Wachovia Wealth Management: “As a white man, I’m working to get personally connected to this chapter in our company’s and our country’s history…”
Gag. Don’t you just love it? Wood did:
It sounds to me like poor Stan has been to one too many diversity-training workshops. Let me help, Stan. First, don’t try to respond to this “as a white man.” See if you can respond just as a serious person. In that light, neither you nor the company you work for bear any particular responsibility for antebellum slavery. You didn’t trade railroad stock for an enslaved blacksmith. You didn’t take slaves as collateral for loans. You have not traded in human souls. Nor has your company. Offering, as you do, “heartfelt apologies on behalf of Wachovia” is, at best, an empty formality. You cannot apologize for that for which you bear no responsibility. Doing so “on behalf of Wachovia” demeans your colleagues who are guiltless of holding anyone in bondage.
I wasn’t sure I’d find an example of corporate-speak quite as stupid as the “work/home balance” memo I posted last year, but this one sure has to be a contender. What’s troubling about this is one of two things: either corporate diversity training has stripped employees of the ability to think or speak for themselves, or – even more alarmingly – this is how they actually think. But then, considering the rash of corporate scandals we’ve seen recently, as well as the legal but immoral treatment we’ve seen many employees receive at the hands of Corporate America, we should hardly be surprised that Wachovia has decided to divest themselves from logic and reason.
Wachovia is undoubtedly trying to proactively head off some kind of protest from Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, or some other professional agitator (in fact, the whole thing started with a requirement from the City of Chicago to “ ‘disclose any historic ties to slavery,’ in order to continue its involvement in an affordable housing project”), which makes their action all the more gutless. Like so many denizens of Corporate America, they’re just enabling the special interest groups that are doing so much damage to American society. So what on the face of it may appear to be a moral action – apologizing for past offenses – in fact can be a deeply immoral act, leading to all kinds of consequences, done not for altruistic reasons but as a kind of preemptive blackmail payment.
“We are responsible for our own acts, not those of men who lived more than 150 years ago,” Wood writes. Indeed, perhaps Wachovia should look at the results they’re reaping from their current actions. Wood:
Your odd “as a white man” e-mail confessing your shame over Wachovia’s historyAs a side note, one of the more interesting facts buried in the article is that there are some 400 “predecessor institutions” that make up today’s Wachovia, which may be more of a justification for the theory of Distributism than anything I’ve written previously.
reached me though an acquaintance who works in Wachovia’s Wealth Management division. I am struck that any company that really wants to manage other people’s wealth ought to have a more robust view of personal responsibility. Are Wachovia’s clients and shareholders to be expected to help Wachovia pay down its imaginary debt to those who claim to speak on behalf of the victims of slavery? Your e-mail doesn’t say, and Wachovia’s website is likewise silent on the issue. But it is hard to think that a company that commissioned an itemized account from the History Factory of the transgressions of its predecessor companies is going to stop with CEO Ken Thompson’s press-release apology “to all Americans.”
Read the rest of the article here, including Wood’s excellent closing point: “But if we are all going to apologize, I don’t want to be the last in line. I apologize for the role of higher education in so ill-equipping some of America’s business leaders that, when they are faced with grossly defective moral reasoning, they see no option other than to embrace it.”
Friday, June 10, 2005
MH - Death Takes a Holiday
MH - Chesterton in the Twin Cities
Chesterton is a lost treasure, a writer who often doesn't get the credit (or the attention) he deserves. (I've met too many people who have no clue as to who - or what - a Chesterton is,) Fortunately, with much credit due to Dale Ahlquist and the American Chesterton Society, there is a renaissance going on. As readers of Our Word know, I had the great good fortune to interview Dale for a local cable TV show a couple of months ago - he's bright, funny, a very sharp thinker, and an absolute expert on GKC. Chesterton's work on Distributism has played a big part in shaping my economic thinking.
For those of you in the Twin Cities (and for anyone who cares to make the trip - it's beautiful this time of year; no snow), come on out to the conference. If we've succeeded in digging out from our move, we'll be there; and it would be well worth your time to check out The Seventh Age's talk!
Thursday, June 9, 2005
MH - ABC's Indy Bias
The allegedly "edgy" graphics and music may have copied trends, but the graphics package was a poor copy of Fox's famed NASCAR graphics package which inspired today's NFL and MLB packages.
And ABC's move is a complete opposite of NASCAR, where both Fox and NBC (divided by portions of the season) each signed an experienced broadcaster to the call. At Fox, Mike Joy, who at 55 is slightly younger than Bob Jenkins (57), was given the lead role, and is backed by well-experienced analysts whose experience total 107 wins and admittingly will watch football games and keep their eyes on the coaches' mindset during the game. Joy is a veteran of over 30 years of short-track announcing in the Northeast before recently moving to Statesville, NC. He co-owns the Northeastern territorial rights to Sunoco racing gasoline.
NBC's Bill Weber, 48, is a former television sports anchor in Indiana and worked on public relations before returning to journalism at ESPN, and later NBC.
While announcers are rarely seen, Fox has a notorious manner of having the crew wear fancy business suits -- the three men at Sunday night's NASCAR race wore black wool suits, and they aren't afraid to wear the wool -- Larry McReynolds once admitted his daughter helped him one off-season in improving his look which fans noticed, and since Fox's first race, all three men have at one time or another deviated from the others in wearing a different color -- brown is a favorite color of all three announcers -- Mike Joy anchored Fox's first race in a brown jacket, and the three announcers aren't afraid to present themselves as professionals in front of CEO's.
ABC did get the ratings, but Todd Harris is a joke. Now the Fox NASCAR crew that night did get a bit overexuberant at the finish of Sunday night's Coca-Cola 600, but it was 100% evident they knew what they were watching. The way the analysts carry the race through the final laps watching Jimmie Johnson pass Bobby Labonte in the last 1,000 yards showed their prowess -- they developed the angle in the final ten laps, including the red flag, as they worked well with Labonte's team leader Steve Addington. That call sounded as if you were at the local bullring and the local announcers were calling the last lap of a spirited battle.
It's clear Todd Harris and Mike Joy are day and night apart in their experience, and in their calls, and Joy used his 30 years of experience to outshine Harris.
Thanks for the insight, Bobby. It's nice to know I'm not the only one who found Harris woefully lacking in his commentary. Indy used to be the premiere event in auto racing - now, largely because of the IRL-IndyCar split (with the result that many of racing's brightest new talent is in NASCAR; there's no way Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart should not be at Indy), Indy racing has fallen off the radar of many sports fans.
Indy has a chance to recover its place in the sun - a good chance, based on this year's ratings - but it's going to remain a second-class citizen on TV unless ABC starts to give it the respect it deserves and cover it like the major sporting event it is.
MH - The Dean's List
It frustrates me, though. Just as the Democrats are often accused of taking for granted support from minority groups (with the result that they only pay lip service to their “constituents”), the Republicans face the same charge when it comes to social conservatives. (“Maybe you don’t like Bush, but who you gonna vote for? Kerry?”)
That’s why it pains me to see the Democrats (or at least Dean) treating Christians with such obvious scorn. As I mentioned in an earlier post, a pro-life Democratic party would create an extremely interesting political landscape. (Several commentators have remarked that the best thing that could happen for the Democratic party would be for abortion to be taken off the political table.) Maybe that ain’t gonna happen (OK, it almost definitely won’t happen), but a party that at least didn’t appear to go out of its way to express such contempt for Christians and the issues that resonate with many of them – abortion, homosexual marriage and the like – might, just might, result in a few conservative Democrats that pro-life conservatives with a concern for social justice could support.
Perhaps I’m not expressing this very well – I admit I’m not taking as much time to compose this as I should – but I think of Barry Goldwater’s slogan, “A Choice, Not an Echo.” What social conservatives need more than ever is a choice, not the prospect of having to echo support for the Republican candidate simply because he or she represents the lesser of evils. What we need is a competitive Democratic party, one that can appeal to our conscience across the political board.
And with Howard Dean and his cronies, that’s exactly what we’re not going to get.
MH - To Verb or Not to Verb? Let's Dialogue It
This is more than just a pet peeve; it drives me crazy. Grammar is like underwear – you have to be very careful how you show it in public. I don’t know whether people are trying to sound more intelligent, whether they’re just trying to blend in by parroting what they hear others say, or if they really are illiterate. I used to work for someone who loved to say things like “Let’s look at our key learnings,” or “We plan to succeed by partnering with another department.”
Haven’t these people ever heard of KISS? (As in Keep It Simple, Stupid; not Gene Simmons.) What’s wrong with saying “We plan to succeed by working with another department”? For that matter, if it’s just a case of wanting to sound smart, why not “We plan to succeed by working in conjunction with another department”?
(P.S. The person I referred to above was so hooked on corporate-speak that they couldn’t leave it alone, adopting the infamous “happy holidays” even when attending our Christmas open house, and speaking of the “key learnings” after coming back from maternity leave.)
Of course, these are the new buzzwords, and there’s nothing more important in the business world than showing everyone that you’re cutting edge, with-it, up-to-date. Spare me. If I ever start to lapse into that kind of writing, shoot me on the spot.
MH - What's In a Headline?
At the Sofia News Agency, Pope Slams Gay Marriages, Birth Control. No word on whether this was a suplex, an old-fashioned belly-to-belly body slam, or whether the Papa leaped from the top rope.
At the Marin Independent-Journal, Pope restates his opposition to gay unions. Is there a branch of the AFL-CIO I haven't heard of? Probably some obscure electrical brotherhood with their secret handshakes and color-coded hankies.
Meanwhile, The Dawn Patrol proves here and here that headline writing truly is an art form...
Tuesday, June 7, 2005
MH - Thanks, Father!
Fr. Pouliot was the priest who brought me into the Church. I took my instruction from him, was confirmed by him, made my first confession to him, had my marriage blessed by him, and made my first communion with him. Those four sacraments were all performed in the same day - I can still remember how excited he was. It isn't every day that a priest gets to perform four sacraments on someone at once!
Fr. Pouliot was the ideal of a Catholic priest. Kind, gentle, hard working, and a man of quiet, but great, faith - he always put the needs of his parishioners ahead of his own. While I was serving on the Finance Committee at Visitation, the decision was made to renovate the rectory. We had a dickens of a time getting him to agree to it - he always thought the money could be better spent somewhere else! Of course, he was also a pack rat - I'm not sure he ever actually threw anything away, and I think one of the things that scared him most about having the rectory renovated was the idea that someone might get rid of something that he might possibly have a use for sometime! Now, having been something of a pack rat myself, I can understand that completely - and I don't doubt that he did wind up using most everything he kept.
I have a great admiration and affection for Fr. Pouliot. He wasn't perfect; only a trait he shared with everyone else in the Church. And he'll never quit being a priest; as he mentions, he's looking forward to continuing to serve by filling in at various parishes when needed.
I hope our paths cross again in the future; I don't doubt that, even in retirement, he'll continue to perform a great service for the Church. To paraphrase his favorite saying, "Well begun, Father, half done!" And many, many more years!
MH - Catholic Carnival XXXIII Is Up!
Monday, June 6, 2005
MH - What Do You Believe?
Born-again Christians simply aren’t as generally advertised. Consider their view of Jesus, once regarded as the Sinless One. Twenty-eight percent agree that “while he lived on earth, Jesus committed sins, like other people.” That is far from a crusading belief. Even further afield, 35 percent of these supposedly hard-core believers do not believe Jesus experienced a physical resurrection, a belief shared by 39 percent of the general population (85 percent of Americans say they believe that Jesus is “spiritually alive,” whatever that may mean. One recalls that many Americans believe their deceased pets are now ghosts, which may also qualify as being spiritually alive. )
In this same spirit, 52 percent of born agains believe the Holy Spirit is merely a symbol of God’s presence or power but is not a living entity, not much different than the general adult population (61 percent). Nor does the devil find much support. Nearly 60 percent of American adults say Satan does not exist as a being at all, but is merely a symbol of evil; 45 percent of born again Christians agree. These supposed storm troopers of the religious right have surprisingly little interest in bringing non-believers into the fold. Over one quarter — 26 percent — think it doesn’t matter what faith a person has because religions teach pretty much the same thing, while 50 percent believe a life of “good works” will get you into heaven. They are also more politically heterodox than rumored. According to 2001 figures, 38 percent of Democrats, 57 percent of Republicans, and 35 percent of Independents consider themselves born again Christians. Political analyst and writer Steve Waldman reminds us that “at least 10 million white evangelical Christians voted for Gore.”
Ah, but those stats refer to born-again Evangelicals. Us Catholics know better, right? Uh, maybe not. In the same article Fr. John McCloskey estimates that only about 10% of Catholics could be said to be “with the program,” (regular Mass and Confession, living a life in conformity with church teachings). The 10% figure is credited in other denominations by other authorities as well.
Well, so much for the coming theocracy. This is just ridiculous, if not discouraging. Yet at the same time, you can hardly blame some of these people, considering the quality of religious education they must have gotten - that is, if they got any at all. These people are searching - they know there's something missing in their lives, they want to believe in something - but they turn to this simplistic "feel good" pop spirituality that makes them feel better, when the glory of the Faith is out there waiting for them, ready to shower them with riches beyond their imagination. If only they knew where to turn.
If only their teachers were willing to give them the truth.
This is all the more reason why it’s so important for the Church to teach the clear truth, and for Catholics to recognize and submit to that teaching authority.
Reading that article got me to thinking, and I thought I recalled something Fr. James Schall had written in one of his Crisis columns. I did a little digging in their archives, and turns out I was right. It can't be said any better than this:
Unlike other monotheistic religions, Catholicism understands that God has an inner life, an otherness in the divinity, Father, Son, and Spirit. Three Persons, one God. Is this not artificial complexity? Granted that we have had a couple thousand years to make sense of this teaching—and we are supposed to make sense of it, since Catholicism is also a religion of the intellect—the understanding of this inner life of God needs to be accurate. Small errors have big consequences. The world laughs at wars of religion. This would be funnier if there were no wars of irreligion. But the suggestion that what we believe about God makes no difference is an attack on God Himself. We are not free not to have the right idea about God, even if we should have the right idea freely."We are not free not to have the right idea about God, even if we should have the right idea freely." Wonderfully stated. Maybe it's not easy, maybe there's more to Christianity than first appears, but the best things in life seldom are easy. Fr. Schall concludes thustly:
In an “introductory” book, St. Thomas Aquinas took about 4,000 pages to sort out the implications of all this. So is this a bad thing, this “complexity”? I think it’s rather a glory. It’s not that any of us, even Aquinas, will get everything right all the time. But it is a comfort to know that, in revealing something of Himself to us, the Divinity wanted us to get it right about what it was all about. And He may have wanted to provoke the philosophers, who thought they had it right on their own hook. As I say, it’s complex.
Amen. He does want us to get it right. It's so complex we'll never completely figure it out in our lifetimes.
Ah, but the journey...
Saturday, June 4, 2005
MH - St. Joseph the Realtor?
The question boils down to this: is burying the statue an act of superstition? Jimmy thinks so; Zippy isn’t so sure you can say that categorically:
[I]f the person performing the act views it as a devotional act pleasing to the saint, intended as a concrete act of devotion in conjunction with asking for the saint's intercession, it is not superstitious. If the person performing the act views it as something that compels the saint to grant a wish like a genie summoned from a bottle, it is superstitious.Now, we do have some experience with this, having sold two homes in the last three years. We were given the St. Joseph selling kit as a gift, and while we did bury the statue (in the garden; we thought St. Joseph would appreciate the peace and color of the flowers), we also said the prayers that went along with the kit, and continued to pray until the house sold (which it did in four days; the good Saint is also a good realtor). More recently, we did not bury the statue (we kept it on a display shelf where it’s rested since being removed from the earth), but did say the prayers. Again, the house sold, and while it wasn’t as fast as the first one (the market’s not as good, either) it sold more quickly than other houses in the neighborhood.
I don’t mean to strike a flip attitude about this, but my purpose is to throw my lot with Zippy’s comments; had we simply buried the statue and figured that was all there was to it, I think that would clearly have been an act of superstition. Our success in selling our second house indicates to me that it isn’t necessary to bury the statue at all; having it as a symbol of our devotion to St. Joseph and as an aid in our prayer is sufficient. But what was essential was prayer – that, and gratitude afterward for our prayers being answered.
We have absolutely no doubt that our prayers to St. Joseph were heard and answered. Were it not for our trust in Jesus’ foster father and our confidence that he would intervene with his Son on our behalf, I don’t believe either of our sales would have gone as smoothly or as quickly as they did. True, it helps to have good realtors; but who’s to say St. Joseph didn’t have something to do with that as well? And if your house doesn’t sell as quickly as you’d hoped? Well, it’s reasonable to assume someone else might be out there praying to St. Joseph for help in buying a house; finding yours might be the answer to their prayers, and should we be so selfish as to suggest that St. Joseph can’t answer both requests at the same time?
As the man closest to Jesus during His childhood, we should be confident that St. Joseph remains close to Him in Heaven. As protector of the Holy Family and of the Church, we should not doubt that he wishes protection for us as well, and wants to do what he can to help. Perhaps the statue is unnecessary, but the tradition of the Church welcomes religious art as an aid to prayer and a visible sign of the veneration we have for the saints. Used in that manner, and not as a magic tonic (nor in thinking that you have to bury him in a particular position, location, or in fact at all), I see no problem in having a statue of St. Joseph accompany your prayers for success in selling your house. But the statue isn’t the important thing: prayers, and faith, are.
Thursday, June 2, 2005
MH - Created Male and Female
I was prompted to consider this today by a bit I read at cnn.com, in a discussion that touched on Indy driver Danica Patrick. The correspondent – let’s call him Justin, since that’s what he called himself – says, "Women are not equal to men. And if they want to be the same as men, I suggest they get a sex change."
See, here’s the basic misconception in a nutshell. Women are absolutely equal to men. What they are not is identical. Now, Justin may simply be a male chauvinist, or he could be a victim of this obliteration of distinction with the result that the terms “equal” and “identical” now mean one and the same thing. But the fact of the matter is that God created us, male and female; and He created us equal in terms of dignity before His eyes. This does not, however, mean that men and women are interchangeable. Both have distinct traits and clearly defined roles within God’s cosmology; and while there may be differences between the roles of men and women, it must be stressed that they are complimentary roles, built to interact and form a perfect fit. Take away one, and not only would the other be incomplete, but the world itself would be lacking a necessary component.
In saying this, I’ve been heavily influenced by my current reading material, Bishop Sheen’s The World’s First Love: Mary, Mother of God. In the chapter entitled “Virgin and Mother,” Sheen defines the differences between men and women as follows, and in doing so attacks a currently popular idea, that women are more naturally drawn to religion than men:
It is not that women are naturally more religious than men. This statement is merely a rationalization made by men who have fallen from their ideals. Man and woman each have a specific mission under God to compliment one another. Each, too, has its symbol in the lower order. Man may be likened to the animal in his acquisitiveness, mobility, and initiative. Woman may be likened to the follower, which is fixed between Heaven and earth; she is like the earth in her bearing of life; she is like Heaven in her aspirations to blossom upward to the Divine. The mark of man is initiative, but the mark of woman is cooperation. Man talks about freedom; woman about sympathy, love, sacrifice. Man cooperates with nature; woman cooperates with God. Man was called to till the earth, to “rule over the earth"; woman to be the bearer of a life that comes from God. The hidden wish of every woman in history, the secret desire of every feminine heart, is fulfilled in that instant when Mary says: “Fiat” – “Be it done unto me according to thy word.” (p. 84)
These missions, different in style but equal in substance, are part of the natural law, crucial to the development of God’s plan; to the extent that we see a blurring or elimination of those differences, in the name of “equality” that really demands “identicality,” we witness growing suspicion, mistrust and antagonism between the sexes. The attempt of Adam to pass blame off on Eve in the Garden of Eden (“She made me do it!”) was the first evidence of a rift in this complimentary relationship between man and woman: the husband, in the position of protector (courage), abandons his responsibility in an effort to protect himself (cowardice) by shifting blame to his wife.
Has our current culture played an active role in blurring the essential natures of both women and men? Some would argue we’ve removed males from their basic environment, eliminating their ability to provide for their families. This has happened in several ways, some of which might be: 1) the transition to a service-based economy has eliminated many manual labor opportunities, such as farming and manufacturing (as Sheen says, “Man was called to till the earth) and introduced the concept of the “wage slave,” which runs contrary to the natural part which work plays in the life of man; 2) the introduction of women into the workplace in large numbers has eliminated (or greatly reduced) the natural role differences between the sexes, creating tension both within the economy and in the household; 3) the feminization of culture continues, with men urged to “get in touch with their feminine sides,” causing gender confusion, resentment, and overreaction (for example, “The Man Show”); and 4) the usurpation by the government of the male’s role as provider to his family, through welfare programs that, although perhaps well-intentioned, have resulted in absolving many men from any legal or moral duty to provide support – economic, emotional or spiritual – to their family. Through all this, it’s not unreasonable to suggest that there is real confusion on the part of men as to what’s expected of them today by society. Who are they, what are they supposed to do, what is acceptable and what is unacceptable, what is their true worth and value? Would it be any wonder if men were frustrated and disillusioned with life as a result?
This has been accompanied by a similar blurring of traditional female roles and a concurrent disenchantment and anger, which has manifested itself in surprising ways. For example, here is Sheen’s most novel analysis of the situation, beginning with the growing impact (in 1952) of women entering the workplace:
Tragedy stalks when woman is forced by economic or social circumstances to busy herself in those materialities that hamper or dam up the outpouring of that specific quality of surrender to Divine Purpose that makes her a woman. Denied an outlet for the bursting need of giving, she feels a deeper sense of emptiness than a man, precisely because of the greater depths of her fountain of love.
This leads to his conclusion:
The explosive revolt of woman against her alleged inequalities with man is at bottom a protest against the restraints of a bourgeois civilization without faith, one that has chained her God-given talents. (p. 85)
Now, we’ve all heard of new mothers troubled by having to return to work, about the strain on the bond with the baby, and how in many cases the maternal nature of the woman becomes so strong that she becomes dissatisfied with trying to “have it all” and opts instead for full-time motherhood. In these cases, we think there’s something not quite natural about the mother being separated from the child so soon after birth; hence, the woman’s rebellion seems quite logical.
But this is the first time I’ve actually heard of feminism itself being a by-product of a revolt within woman against the violation of natural law that is inflicted on her by an economy that forces her to enter the workplace. (I think I’m summarizing that correctly; at least I know what I’m trying to say.) While some might question the validity of applying the written word of over fifty years ago to our situation today, I think we should keep in mind that this was written during the genesis of the feminist movement, with women having played such a major role in the wartime economy and with feminist authors like Betty Friedan coming to the fore. Feminists today might disagree with Sheen’s assessment, but we need to apply the theory in context; that is, at the birth of the idea.
So in our elimination of the differences between “equal” and “identical,” we’ve come up with a major fracture of the created natures of man and woman – natures created by God. When we look at those who are the main proponents of “equality” (i.e. identicality), do we not have reason to suspect the existence of a hidden agenda, a rebellion against God? They seek to elevate the “individual” at the expense of God and to elevate the State at the expense of humanity, with the result that what is lost is the very essence of what it means to be a human. Elevating the individual is not really acknowledging the unique qualities of the human being, because in this case the term “individual” itself is simply a euphemism for anarchy, for the relativism that Pope Benedict has attacked, the relativism that states there are no absolutes, that all law and all morality is ultimately up for “individual” interpretation. Our subsequent rebellions are therefore revolts against the sense (even a subconscious sense) that natural law has been violated, that God’s order has been contravened, that the balance has been lost and the pieces no longer fit as they should.
In our pluralistic society, we’ve been ingrained to accept “equal” as being “identical” – after all, the Supreme Court ruled that “separate but equal” was unconstitutional, and we’ve come to accept that way of thinking. But what makes good judicial law can result in bad moral law. To wipe out all differences of man and woman is to suggest that there’s really no reason to have two sexes at all. And where would we be if that happened? Try same-sex marriage, for starters.
Men and women have unique roles in God’s creation. Those who argue for a supremacy of man, whether claiming chauvinism or suppression, should keep in mind that women, especially, have been privileged with an intimate partnership with God Himself. It was a woman that brought God into the world in human form. It is woman who was created to love, to nurture, to bring us closer to Heaven through selfless giving. As God is the giver of life, woman alone bears that gift and brings it to fruition. All in all, that’s not a bad deal.
The gifts that man and woman have been given by God are true blessings, gifts of enormous value. That they are not identical gifts in no way diminishes the worth of each, or the equality of each. Henry Higgins asks, “Why can’t a woman be more like a man?” I think to a great extent we should be glad that they aren’t.