Friday, October 31, 2008

Population Control Movement

In this review of a new book about the movement, it is apparent that denying their inherent dignity and respecting human beings own capacity to determine their family future by turning those decisions over to government, causes great and horrible damage; continuing today with the support of many public leaders who claim to be practicing Catholics while disregarding a major doctrine of the Church.

An excerpt from the review.

“When historians study hubris, they usually tell stories about the dazzling, cruel, or ill-fated exploits of specific people—presidents, dictators, revolutionaries. In Fatal Misconception, Matthew Connelly, an associate professor of history at Columbia University, looks instead at an idea: controlling human reproduction. Bold in its claims and wildly arrogant in its approach, the international population control movement of the 20th century provides a stark example of the harms that can occur in the name of benevolence. As Connelly describes in this meticulously researched and well-argued study.

“Scientists and activists organized across borders to press for common norms of reproductive behavior. International and nongovernmental organizations spearheaded a worldwide campaign to reduce fertility. Together they created a new kind of global governance, in which proponents tried to control the population of the world without having to answer to anyone in particular.”

“As Connelly tells it, the population control movement faced the perverse challenge of trying to reverse an extraordinary human achievement: "In the last century, humanity has experienced more than twice as great a gain in longevity as in the previous two thousand centuries, and more than four times the growth in population." But with rapid growth in population came fears of social disruption and food scarcity. The "misery and the fear of misery" caused by overpopulation that mathematician Thomas Malthus first described in 1798 remained a constant concern in Europe and the U.S. During the late 19th century, these anxieties fueled the drive to categorize and make systematic a world that seemed out of control; among the most popular ways of doing this was dividing the world up into different ethnic or racial groups, some deemed more favorable than others. In the United States, fears of "race suicide," an influx of immigrants from Asia and Southern and Eastern Europe, and concerns about the growth of the so-called feebleminded population at home led to the embrace of eugenics, the movement to improve the human race through better breeding practices.”

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Centrality of the Liturgy

Since becoming Catholic I have understood this on an intellectual level, but I did not begin to understand it on an spiritual level until I began attending daily mass; and this article from Pope Benedict, which is serving as the introduction to the first volume in the multi-volume edition of his writings, is a focus on that.

An excerpt.

“Ever since my childhood, the Church's liturgy has been the central activity of my life, and it also became, under the theological instruction of masters like Schmaus, Söhngen, Pascher, and Guardini, the center of my theological work. I chose fundamental theology as my specific topic, because I wanted above all to go to the heart of the question: why do we believe? But right from the beginning, this question included the other one about the proper response to to God, and therefore also the question about the divine service. It is on this basis that my work on the liturgy must be understood. I was not interested in the specific problems of liturgical study, but in the anchoring of the liturgy in the fundamental act of our faith, and therefore also its place in our entire human existence.

“This volume now collects all of my short and medium-length work in which over the years, on various occasions and from different perspectives, I have expressed positions on liturgical questions. After all of the contributions that came into being in this way, I was finally prompted to present a vision of the whole, which appeared in the jubilee year 2000 under the title "The Spirit of the Liturgy." This constitutes the central text of the book.

“Unfortunately, almost all of the reviews of this have been directed at a single chapter: "The altar and the direction of liturgical prayer." Readers of these reviews must have received the impression that the entire work dealt only with the orientation of the celebration, and that its contents could be reduced to the desire to reintroduce the celebration of the Mass "with [the priest's] back turned to the people." In consideration of this misrepresentation, I thought for a moment about eliminating the chapter (just nine pages out of two hundred) in order to bring the discussion back to the real issue that interested me, and continues to interest me, in the book. It would have been much easier to do this because in the meantime, two excellent works had been published in which the question of the orientation of prayer in the Church during the first millennium is clarified in a persuasive manner. I think first of all of the important, brief book by Uwe Michael Lang "Turning Towards the Lord: Orientation in Liturgical Prayer" (Ignatius Press, San Francisco, 2004), and in a special way of the tremendous contribution by Stefan Heid, "Atteggiamento ed orientamento della preghiera nella prima epoca cristiana [Attitude and orientation of prayer in the early Christian era]" (in "Rivista d’Archeologia Cristiana" 72, 2006), in which the sources and bibliography on this question have been extensively illustrated and updated.

“The result is entirely clear: the idea that the priest and people should look at each other in prayer emerged only in modern Christianity, and is completely foreign to ancient Christianity. Priest and people certainly do not pray to each other, but to the same Lord. So in prayer, they look in the same direction: either toward the East as the cosmic symbol of the Lord who is to come, or, where this is not possible, toward an image of Christ in the apse, toward a cross, or simply toward the sky, as the Lord did in his priestly prayer the evening before his Passion (John 17:1). Fortunately, the proposal that I made at the end of the chapter in question in my book is making headway: not to proceed with new transformations, but simply to place the cross at the center of the altar, so that both priest and faithful can look at it, in order to allow themselves to be drawn toward the Lord to whom all are praying together.”

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Magisterium

When I was going through the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA) process I was taught many things, by either the handouts, the various speakers, or my sponsor, that were—as I later discovered while doing my own research—were somewhat shaky as far as the teaching of the Church was concerned.

This is and will continue to be a problem for many Catholics for all time, but becoming familiar with what the Magisterium—the Church’s teaching authority—says is crucial to living life as a practicing Catholic; primarily because so many Catholics who proclaim to be acting within the Magisterium when pronouncing their views, are not.

The single best source is the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the online version from the Vatican.

Here is an excerpt from an article about the Magisterium by Thomas Storck.

“The crisis that has afflicted the Catholic Church since the middle of the 1960s has been a crisis of both faith and morals, that is, a crisis that has made many Catholics no longer know what to believe or what kind of conduct God expects of us. What is needed as a remedy for this is a firm standard, a reliable guide or teacher who can tell us both what we must believe and what we must do. And, of course, in Christ's true Church we do have such a reliable standard and guide. But even Catholics of good will can sometimes be confused about exactly which voices within the Church they are to follow.

“In the past the average Catholic could depend on the word of his parish priest if he had any doubts about correct Catholic belief or conduct, or even on the example of the many good Catholics about him. But today one can no longer trust everything that is said by just any priest or theologian, and our fellow parishioners are likely to be totally confused about what the Church proclaims to have been revealed by God. And so it behooves us to understand a word and concept that is apt to be unfamiliar or confusing. This word is Magisterium. Now the Latin word magisterium originally meant the duty or office of a teacher, tutor, master, etc. And in the case of the Church it means simply the teaching authority or office of the Church. The Magisterium is the teaching office of the Church, accomplished by the Holy Father and the bishops teaching in union with him.

“The rule of what we must believe as Catholics was defined by the First Vatican Council (1870) thus:

“. . . Further, all those things are to be believed with divine and Catholic faith which are contained in the Word of God, written or handed down, and which the Church, either by a solemn judgment or by her ordinary and universal teaching [magisterium], proposes for belief as having been divinely revealed.”

“This quotation brings up several points that must be explained. In the first place, the decree speaks of the "Word of God, written or handed down," that is, recorded either in Sacred Scripture or in Sacred Tradition. Now at first it might seem as if Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition are two separate sources of divine revelation. But the Second Vatican Council explained that in fact, "Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture make up a single sacred deposit of the Word of God, which is entrusted to the Church." In other words, the truths which God has revealed to his Church come to us through two modes, but they constitute one body of truth, the Word of God.

“Therefore the Protestant practice of equating the Word of God with only the written Bible is an error. Moreover, as should be obvious from a little reflection and historical knowledge, Sacred Scripture is itself a product of the Church's thought and activity, and in this sense a product of Sacred Tradition. This is true even though Scripture has God for its author and is itself a mode of revelation, for the human authors of the New Testament wrote from within the Church and took for granted the Church's teaching and worship as they wrote.

“The second point raised by the statement from the First Vatican Council is the distinction between the Church's extraordinary Magisterium and her ordinary and universal Magisterium, that is between what is taught "by a solemn judgment or by her ordinary and universal teaching." Thus the Magisterium operates via two methods. The solemn or extraordinary Magisterium is seen in solemn definitions either by a pope, as for example, the definition of the dogma of the Assumption of Mary into Heaven in 1950, or by one of the Ecumenical Councils of the Catholic Church ratified by the pope, as the definitions made by the Council of Trent (1545-1563) to reaffirm the Catholic faith against the Protestants or the definition of papal infallibility by the First Vatican Council in 1870.

“The ordinary and universal Magisterium, on the other hand, is the ordinary teaching of the Church, accomplished via papal pronouncements, statements of bishops, catechisms, homilies, etc. This is not to say that everything that any pope, bishop or priest has ever said on any occasion is part of the ordinary and universal Magisterium, but that it is via such means that this teaching is generally made known to the faithful. Note that the First Vatican Council speaks of it as both "ordinary and universal." "Ordinary" means that it is accomplished via the ordinary means of teaching that the Church uses, but "universal" means that it is taught by the entire body of bishops, and usually over a period of time. For generally when a doctrine has been taught as authoritative over time and by many popes and bishops, this indicates that it is a teaching of the ordinary and universal Magisterium and must be received and believed as faithfully as teaching that is solemnly defined by pope or council.” (italics in original)

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Abortion, No Small Murders

This is the central issue in the social teaching of the Church; the one that has forever been considered the gravest of sins, and though there is a continual urge by many Catholics, either from a lack of knowledge or design, to reduce it in importance or conflate it with other social teaching issues, it remains alone in its paramount importance.

Cardinal Ratzinger, before becoming Pope Benedict XVI wrote about this.

Here is an excerpt.

“One widespread section of public position in the educated bourgeoisie may find it exaggerated and inopportune--indeed, downright distasteful--that we continue to remind them that the problem of respect for a life that has been conceived and is not yet born is a decisive question.

“In the last fifteen years, almost all Western countries have legalized abortion, to the accompaniment of lacerating debates; ought we not today to consider the problem settled and avoid brushing the dust off antagonistic ideological positions that have been made obsolete by the course of events?

“Why not accept that we have lost the battle and choose instead to dedicate our energies to initiatives that can hope to find support in a broader social consensus?

“Indeed, if we remain on the superficial level, we could be convinced that the legal approval of abortion has not really changed much in our private lives and in the life of our societies; basically, everything seems to be going on as before.

“Everyone can act in accordance with his conscience: a woman who does not want to have an abortion is not compelled to do so, and a woman who does have an abortion with the approval of a law would perhaps have done so in any case (or so we are told).

“It all takes place in the silence of an operating room, which at least guarantees that the "medical intervention" will take place with a certain degree of safety: and it is as if the fetus that will never se the light of day in fact never existed.

“Who notices what's going on? Why should we continue to speak publicly of this drama? Is it not perhaps better to leave it buried in the silence of the consciences of the individuals involved?

“The Book of Genesis contains a passage that addresses our problem with impressive eloquence: the blessing the Lord God pronounces on Noah and his sons after the flood. After the event of sin, God reestablishes here, once and for all, the only laws that can guarantee the continuation of life for the human race…

“The text from Genesis guides our reflections in a double, which corresponds well to the double dimension of the questions we asked at the beginning of this essay:

“First, there are no "small murders". The respect of every human life is an essential condition if a societal worthy of the name is to be possible.

“Secondly, when man's conscience loses respect for life as something sacred, he inevitably ends by losing his own identity.”

Monday, October 27, 2008

Foundation & Summit

The foundation upon which the Church rests is the sacredness of each human life; not in the abstract, but in the specific sense of an individual human being.

This foundation of the Church finds fulfillment in the summit of the Church during the daily Mass; where Christ enters again into each faithful human being during the eucharistic celebration.

This foundation also animates the international posture of the Church in the political arena through its eternal responsibility to protect the innocent; whether through the call for the protection of the unborn, or through the violent exercise of a just war, or the legally proscribed use of capital punishment; and the real politick stance of the abortionists or the pacifistic stance of the war and capital punishment abolitionists is an assault upon the foundation and the summit.

Within the founding spirit of the United States, the overwhelming focus is on the protection of human dignity, human freedom, and religious freedom; powerful marks for a great power to assume and very congruent with those of another great power in the world, the Catholic Church.

Pope Benedict reinforced these principles in his speech to the United Nations, and reminds us of how important it is that we Catholics—who are voting in the United States for leaders of our city, county, and country—remember that being congruent with the basic principles of our faith and our nation, should be a major ingredient in the decision process that leads to our final vote.

An excerpt:

“The principle of “responsibility to protect” was considered by the ancient ius gentium as the foundation of every action taken by those in government with regard to the governed: at the time when the concept of national sovereign States was first developing, the Dominican Friar Francisco de Vitoria, rightly considered as a precursor of the idea of the United Nations, described this responsibility as an aspect of natural reason shared by all nations, and the result of an international order whose task it was to regulate relations between peoples.”

The responsibility to protect the innocent from the aggressor is a Catholic principle woven into its traditional support for babies in the womb, just war, and capital punishment, and is reflected in the 1948 United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, and the 2001 United Nations report, The Responsibility to Protect, which states as two basic principles:

“A. State sovereignty implies responsibility, and the primary responsibility for the protection of its people lies with the state itself.

“B. Where a population is suffering serious harm, as a result of internal war, insurgency, repression or state failure, and the state in question is unwilling or unable to halt or avert it, the principle of non-intervention yields to the international responsibility to protect.” (p. xi)

Pope Benedict XVI (2008) also addressed this in his talk to the United Nations:

“Recognition of the unity of the human family, and attention to the innate dignity of every man and woman, today find renewed emphasis in the principle of the responsibility to protect. This has only recently been defined, but it was already present implicitly at the origins of the United Nations, and is now increasingly characteristic of its activity. Every State has the primary duty to protect its own population from grave and sustained violations of human rights, as well as from the consequences of humanitarian crises, whether natural or man-made. If States are unable to guarantee such protection, the international community must intervene with the juridical means provided in the United Nations Charter and in other international instruments.”

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Bread of Life

The petition—“give us this day our daily bread”—in the Our Father began to acquire a different meaning for me after many months of daily mass and praying the rosary daily with its recitation of the prayer before each decade; becoming more eucharistic that earthly and reading in Pope Benedict’s book, Jesus of Nazareth I discovered others had come to the same conclusion and beyond; then I understood that it was both.

The Holy Father writes:

“Today there are two principal interpretations. One maintains that the word [bread] means “what is necessary for existence.” On this reading, the petition would run as follows: Give us today the bread that we need in order to live. The other interpretation maintains that the correct translation is “bread for the future,” for the following day. But the petition to receive tomorrow’s bread today does not seem to make sense when looked at in the light of the disciple’s existence. The reference to the future would make more sense if the object of the petition were the bread that really does belong to the future: the true manna of God. In that case, it would be an eschatological petition, the petition for an anticipation of the world to come, asking the Lord to give already “today” the future bread, the bread of the new world—himself. On such a reading the petition would acquire an eschatological meaning. Some ancient translations hint in this direction. An example is Saint Jerome’s Vulgate, which translates the mysterious word epiousios as supersubstantialis (i.e., super-substantial), thereby pointing to the new, higher “substance” that the Lord gives us in the Holy Sacrament as the true bread of our life.

“The fact is that the Fathers of the Church were practically unanimous in understanding the fourth petition of the Our Father as a eucharistic petition; in this sense the Our Father figures in the Mass liturgy as a eucharistic table-prayer (i.e., “grace”) This does not remove the straightforward earthly sense of the disciple’s petition that we have just shown to be the text’s immediate meaning. The Fathers consider different dimensions of the saying that begins as a petition for today’s bread for the poor, but insofar as it directs our gaze to the Father in heaven who feeds us, it recalls the wandering People of God, who were fed by God himself. Read in the light of Jesus great discourse on the bread of life, the miracle of the manna naturally points beyond itself to the new world in which the Logos—the eternal Word of God—will be our bread, the food of the eternal wedding banquet." (pp. 154-155)

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Global Warming

In this month’s issue of First Things, (subscription required) is an excellent analysis of the political and religious elements around the global warming debate—though it is quickly becoming less of a debate than a rout of inconvenient facts refuting the essentially Marxist-driven narrative—which many scientists continue to cite as they contest the narrative; also noted in a recent senate committee hearing, where, according to the 400 scientists who testified, human caused global warming is still unproven.

An excerpt from the First Things article.

“This is beyond left or right, conservative or liberal.” So we are regularly told by those who are called the beyondists as they push familiar causes of the left or right. There are some things that really should be beyond partisan labels. For instance, that all human beings, no matter the stage of their development or decline, should be protected by law. That is now seen as a conservative position. When I first started addressing the abortion question many years ago, I argued that it should be viewed as the liberal position. After all, liberalism is for an expansive definition of the community for which we accept common responsibility. But in our public discourse we lost that argument a long time ago.

“Similarly, today we are told that the environment, and global warming more specifically, is a concern that is beyond left or right. It is a scientific question and there is now a scientific “consensus” about the perils of climate change. Despite a large number of organizations receiving an estimated $50 billion in grants to promote concern about global warming, it seems that almost every week more scientists publicly register their dissent from the putative consensus. Even the Old Farmer’s Almanac is predicting a long period of global cooling. Whatever the science may be, it is increasingly evident that global warming is very much an ideological cause.

“In many ways, it has replaced socialism as the weapon of choice in attacking the market economy, a.k.a. capitalism. Columnist Bret Stephens writes, “Take just about any other discredited leftist nostrum of yore—population control, higher taxes, a vast new regulatory regime, global economic redistribution, an enhanced role for the United Nations—and global warming provides a justification.” There is also a pronounced religious dimension.

"Stephens writes, “Surely it is no accident that the principal catastrophe predicted by global warming alarmists is diluvian in nature. Surely it is not a coincidence that modern-day environmentalists are awfully biblical in their critique of the depredations of modern society: ‘And it repented the Lord that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart.’ That’s Genesis, but it sounds like Jim Hansen.” Jim Hansen was key to launching the global-warming alarm with predictions offered twenty years ago in congressional testimony—predictions offered, he said, with “99 percent confidence.”

“The religious dimension is pronounced also in the solutions proposed, almost all of them involving radical changes in personal behavior, usually with an ascetic and rigorously moralistic bent: drive less, buy less, do penance for carbon emissions, walk lightly upon the earth. As Stephens puts it, “A light carbon footprint has become the twenty-first-century equivalent of sexual abstinence.”

“I expect this helps explain why some evangelicals have so enthusiastically jumped aboard the global-warming bandwagon. Don’t smoke, don’t drink, don’t dance—such are the strictures of a stereotyped evangelicalism from which they wish to distance themselves. Now it’s don’t drive an SUV and don’t buy incandescent light bulbs. The new commandments of global warming allow one to be a moralistic scold and fashionable at the same time. Guilt and penance play well also with secularists today. Our achievements as a society are undeserved, our prosperity is morally suspect. Writes Stephens, “In this view, global warming is nature’s great comeuppance, affirming as nothing else our guilty conscience for our worldly success.”

“It has often been observed that, in European politics, “Green” is the new “Red.” In this country, Green is also the new spirituality that neatly combines the old-fashioned altar call with conversion to a heightened environmental consciousness. A few years ago, there was a lively debate over the question “What would Jesus drive?” Apparently that received no definitive answer. But there’s no doubt about what Mother Nature demands of those seeking environmental redemption. It is a curious phenomenon, not untouched by intimations of magic, as evident in a presidential candidate’s suggestion that, with his election, the oceans would stop rising. The one thing the global-warming alarm is not is “beyond left and right, liberal and conservative.”

Friday, October 24, 2008

Another Reentry Strategy

Though this new reentry strategy is from law enforcement, who surely have a much deeper knowledge of the criminal world culture than traditional rehabilitation practitioners and academics, and in this respect will probably have a greater level of success—though at a current success rate of 30% virtually any improvement is to be desired—the chances of it being largely successful is not good.

They do call for the involvement of former criminals who have reformed their lives, but it is almost an afterthought, as noted in this excerpt.

“Individual community members, who may or may not be connected to other stakeholder groups, have valuable contributions as well. People who have returned from prison can personally describe the challenges they faced and services they received that helped them become productive community members. Their messages can be conveyed during program orientation meetings and other forums.” (pp. 23-24)

Thursday, October 23, 2008

The Communion of Saints

This vital communion is defined in the Modern Catholic Dictionary by John A. Hardon, S.J. as:

“The unity and co-operation of the members of the Church on earth with those in heaven and in purgatory. They are united as being one Mystical Body of Christ. The faithful on earth are in communion with each other by professing the same faith, obeying the same authority, and assisting each other with their prayers and good works. They are in communion with the saints in heaven by honoring them as glorified members of the Church, invoking their prayers and aid, and striving to imitate their virtues. They are in communion with the souls in purgatory by helping them with their prayers and good works.”

The communion with the saints is a large source of our strength to daily battle the inertia and fear so often characterizing our struggle to shoulder the cross Christ bequeathed to us—whose reward is joyous eternity—and today is the feast day of a great saint who struggled during a time of horrible peril for the Church, St. John Capistrano.

An excerpt from the Saint of the Day posting.

“Imagine being born in the fourteenth century. One-third of the population and nearly 40 percent of the clergy were wiped out by the bubonic plague. The Western Schism split the Church with two or three claimants to the Holy See at one time. England and France were at war. The city-states of Italy were constantly in conflict. No wonder that gloom dominated the spirit of the culture and the times.

“John Capistrano was born in 1386. His education was thorough. His talents and success were great. When he was 26 he was made governor of Perugia. Imprisoned after a battle against the Malatestas, he resolved to change his way of life completely. At the age of 30 he entered the Franciscan novitiate and was ordained a priest four years later.

“His preaching attracted great throngs at a time of religious apathy and confusion. He and 12 Franciscan brethren were received in the countries of central Europe as angels of God. They were instrumental in reviving a dying faith and devotion…

“John Hofer, a biographer of John Capistrano, recalls a Brussels organization named after the saint. Seeking to solve life problems in a fully Christian spirit, its motto was: "Initiative, Organization, Activity." These three words characterized John's life. He was not one to sit around, ever. His deep Christian optimism drove him to battle problems at all levels with the confidence engendered by a deep faith in Christ.” (highlighting added)

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Having Been There

The most significant success determinant in the human service sector—when personal transformation is the core element—is the involvement of those who have been there; who already know the trials and tribulations of dealing with the cultural artifacts and social handicaps of exposure to one of the government managed systems that too often are marked by failure.

The foster care system is surely one of these and this article from one person who has not only survived it but transcended it to become an advocate for change is another example of how effective those who have “been there” can be in helping others to “transcend there”.

An excerpt.

“Few people here in Sacramento have as close a connection to the policies they propose as I do. When I work on legislation with foster youths and advocates, it's personal.

“Between the ages of 7 and 17, I lived in 10 different foster-care homes. I was the youngest of five children, and my journey through the system began when my mother became addicted to drugs. My father was in Ohio and unable to care for us, so we relied on relatives and foster families throughout California.

“The chaos of home life soon translated into trouble at school. I was kicked out of junior high three times for acting out – getting into a fight, giving counselors a hard time and skipping classes. In high school, I joked that I showed up for two periods: breakfast and lunch.

“Toward the end of high school, I moved to a group home. There I met housemates who had experienced much worse things in the homes they were shuffled in and out of – and in the foster-care system in general.

“Many of their personal struggles matched or foreshadowed disturbing statistics that are all too common for foster youths: Fewer than half graduate from high school. Among those who do, less than 2 percent earn a college degree. And within two years of turning 18, half of all foster youth will find themselves homeless, in prison or on welfare.

“That's why I'm now dedicated to working with and on behalf of the 77,000 foster children in California to fix the system. I say "with" because the young people themselves must have a seat at the table if we, as a state, are to truly understand – and improve – their situations…

“I've been there, and I'm working with bright, courageous foster youths every day to remind elected officials that progress comes from changing, not shortchanging, the system.”

Saturday, October 18, 2008

The Responsibility to Protect

This is the key element of all public service provided by government and it most rightly falls upon those we describe as first responders—police officers, fire fighters, emergency medical personnel—so any cuts to the level of service provided by first responders is a shirking of that key responsibility.

As this article notes, calls for those type of cuts are now occurring in our country, but one hopes that governments resist the urge to cut any threads from the basic fabric of service, that of providing for public safety.

An excerpt.

“The collapse of U.S. financial markets is forcing deep cuts in local police agencies and stoking fears among police chiefs that mass home foreclosures are bringing more crime to suburbs.

“Problems created by the financial meltdown are starting to touch everything from police response times to unsolved crimes.

"As we see significant reductions, we'll be seeing increased response times, fewer cases solved and reduced services for victims of crime," says Prince William County, Va., Police Chief Charlie Deane. His $73 million budget could drop up to 30% next year because of declining property tax revenues.

“Blocks of homes vacant from foreclosures are becoming magnets nationwide for gang members, drug users, prostitutes and thieves, who steal appliances and fixtures, Deane and other officers say.

“At the same time, police agencies are dramatically reducing their forces as local governments struggle to allocate shrinking revenue from property and sales taxes to fund basic services.

"In this crisis, there are no good answers," says Sacramento Police Chief Rick Braziel, who is slashing 200 positions and may need to cut more.

“In a survey of 180 police chiefs released last week by the Police Executive Research Forum, 45% said the economy had affected their agency's "ability to reduce crime."

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The Consistent Ethic of Life

In a recent article from the National Catholic Reporter, we encounter again the damage done to the spiritual underpinning of the aspect of Catholic social teaching connected with the responsibility to protect the innocent by those opposing capital punishment, who conflate their opposition to capital punishment with the traditional Catholic opposition to abortion—representing the animating core of their allegiance to the misguided consistent ethic of life approach—and further conflating their opposition with that of the ancient teaching of the Catholic Church in support of capital punishment; unfortunately aided by the confused, rather than consistent, perspective even supported by many bishops.

The clearest single essay around the issue I’ve yet found is that from Romano Amerio in his book Iota Unum; an essay I presented in a five-part weblog series on capital punishment in August and September.

An excerpt.

“188. Opposition to the death penalty.

“Opposition to the death penalty stems from two diverse and incompatible sets of reasons, and can only be evaluated in the light of the moral assumptions on which it is based. Horror at a crime can coexist with sympathy for human weakness, and with a sense of the human freedom that renders a man capable of rising from any fall as long as his life lasts; hence opposition to the death penalty. But opposition can also stem from the notion that every person is inviolable inasmuch as he is a self-conscious subject living out his life in the world; as if temporal life were an end in itself that could not be suppressed without frustrating the purpose of human existence. Although often thought of as religiously inspired, this second type of reason for rejecting capital punishment is in fact irreligious. It overlooks the fact that from a Christian point of view earthly life is not an end in itself, but a means to life’s moral goal, a goal that transcends the whole order of subordinate worldly goods. Therefore to take away a man’s life is by no means to take away the transcendent end for which he was born and which guarantees his true dignity. A man can propter vitam Vivendi perdere causas (for the sake of life, loose the causes of life) that is, he can make himself unworthy of life by taking temporal life as being itself the supreme good instead of a means to that good. There is therefore a mistake implicit in the second sort of objection to capital punishment, inasmuch as it assumes that in putting someone to death, other men or the state are cutting a criminal off from his destined goal, or depriving him of his last human end or taking away the possibility of his fulfilling his role as a human being. Just the opposite in fact. The condemned man is deprived of his earthly existence, but not of his goal. Naturally, a society that denies there is any future life and supposes there is a fundamental right to happiness in this world, must reject the death penalty as an injustice depriving man of his capacity to be happy.

Paradoxically, those who oppose capital punishment on these grounds are assuming the state has a sort of totalitarian capacity which it does not in fact possess, a power to frustrate the whole of one’s existence. Since a death imposed by one man on another can remove neither the latter’s moral goal nor his human worth, it is still more incapable of preventing the operation of God’s justice, which sits in judgment on all our adjudications. The meaning of the motto engraved on the town executioner’s sword in Fribourg in Switzerland: Seigneur Dieu, tu es le juge (Lord God, Thou art the Judge), was not that human and divine justice were identical; it signified a recognition of that highest justice which sits in judgment on us all.

“Another argument advanced is that capital punishment is useless as a deterrent; as witnessed by Caesar’s famous remark during the trial of the Cataline conspirators, to the effect that a death which put an end to the shame and misery of the criminals would be a lesser punishment than their remaining alive to bear them. This argument flies in the face of the juridical practice of pardoning people under sentence of death, as a favor, and is also refuted by the fact that even infamous criminals sometimes make pacts between themselves with death as the penalty for breaking the agreement. They thereby give a very apposite witness to the fact that capital punishment is an effective deterrent.

“189. Doctrinal change in the Church.

“An important change has occurred in the Church regarding the theology of punishment. We could cite the French bishops’ document that asserted in 1979 that the death penalty ought to be abolished in France as it was incompatible with the Gospel, the Canadian and American bishop’s statements on the matter, and the articles in the Ossevatore Romano calling for the abolition of the death penalty, as injurious to human dignity and contrary to the Gospel.

“As to the biblical argument; even without accepting Baudelaire’s celebration of capital punishment as a supremely sacred and religious proceeding, once cannot cancel out the Old Testament’s decrees regarding the death penalty, by a mere stroke of the pen. Nor can canon law, still less the teaching of the New Testament, be canceled out at a stroke. I am well aware that the famous passage in Romans (Rm 13:4) giving princes the ius gladii (the right use of the sword), and calling them the ministers of God to punish the wicked, has been emptied of meaning by the canons of the new hermeneutic, on the grounds that it is the product of a past set of historical circumstances. Pius XII however explicitly rejected that view, in a speech to Catholic jurists on 5 February 1955, and said that the passage of St. Paul was of permanent and universal value, because it refers to the essential foundation of penal authority and to its inherent purpose. In the Gospel, Christ indirectly sanctions capital punishment when he says it would be better for a man to be condemned to death by drowning than to commit the sin of scandal (Mt 18:6). From the Book of Acts (Acts 5:1-11) it seems the primitive Christian community had no objection to the death penalty, as Ananias and Sapphira are struck down when they appear before St. Peter guilty of fraud and lying at the expense of the brethren. Biblical commentaries tell us that the early Christians’ enemies though this sentence was harsh at the time.

“The change in teaching is obvious on two points. In the new theology of punishment, justice is not considered, and the whole matter is made to turn on the usefulness of the penalty and its aptitude for bringing the guilty person back into society, as the saying goes. On this point, as on others, the new fangled view coincides with the utilitarianism preached by the Jacobins. The individual is held to be essentially independent; the state defends itself against a miscreant, but cannot punish him for breaking a moral law, that is, for being morally guilty. This guiltlessness of the guilty goes on to manifest itself in a reduced consideration for the victim and even in giving preference to the guilty over the innocent. In Sweden people who have been imprisoned are given preferential treatment in examinations for public employment, as compared with other, unconvicted, members of the public. Consideration for the victim is eclipsed by mercy for the wrongdoer. Mounting the steps to the guillotine, the borderer Buffet shouted his hope that he would “be the last man guillotined in France.” He should have shouted he hoped he would be the last murderer. The penalty for the offense seems more objectionable than the crime, and the victim is forgotten. The restoration of a moral order that has been violated by wrongdoing is rejected as if it were an act of vendetta. In fact it is something that justice demands and which must be pursued even if the harm done cannot be reversed and if the rehabilitation of the guilty party is impossible. The modern view also attacks even the validity of divine justice, which punishes the damned without there being any hope or possibility of amendment. The very idea of the redemption of the guilty is reduced to a piece of social engineering. According to the Osservatore Romano (6 Sept 1978), redemption consists in the awareness of a return to being useful to one’s fellows” and not, as the Catholic system would have it, in the detestation of one’s fault and a redirecting of the will back into conformity with the absolutes of the moral law.

“To go on to assert that a life should not be ended because that would remove the possibility of making expiation, is to ignore the great truth that capital punishment is itself expiatory. In a humanistic religion expiation would of course be primarily the converting of a man to other men. On that view, time is needed to effect a reformation, and the time available should not be shortened. In God’s religion, on the other hand, expiation is primarily a recognition of the divine majesty and lordship, which can be and should be recognized at every moment, in accordance with the principle of the concentration of one’s moral life.

“Attacking capital punishment, the Osservatore Romano (22 Jan 1977) asserts that where the wrongdoer is concerned “the community must allow him the possibility of purifying himself, of expiating his guilt, or freeing himself from evil; and capital punishment does not allow for this.” In so saying, the paper denies the expiatory value of death; death which has the highest expiatory value possible among natural things, precisely because life is the highest good among the relative goods of this world; and it is by consenting to sacrifice that life, that the fullest expiation can be made. And again, the expiation that the innocent Christ made for the sins of mankind was itself effected through his being condemned to death. Remember too the conversion of condemned men at the hands of St. Joseph Carfasso; remember some of the letters of people condemned to death in the Resistance. Thanks to the ministry of the priest, stepping in between the judge and the executioner, the death penalty has often brought about wonderful moral changes, such as those of Niccolo de Tuldo, comforted by St. Catherine of Sienna who left an account of what happened in a famous letter of hers; or Felice Robol, assisted on the scaffold by Antonio Rosmini; or Martin Merino who tried to kill the Queen of Spain in 1852; or Jacques Fesch guillotined in 1957, whose letters from prison are a moving testimony to the spiritual perfection of one of God’s elect.

“The most irreligious aspect of this argument against capital punishment is that it denies its expiatory value which, from a religious point of view, is of the highest importance because it can include a final consent to give up the greatest of all worldly goods. This fits exactly with St. Thomas’s opinion that as well as canceling out any debt that the criminal owes to civil society, capital punishment can cancel all punishment due in the life to come. His thought is Mors illata etiam pro criminibus aufert totam poenam pro criminibus debitam in alia vita, vel partem poenae secundum quantitatem culpae, patientiae et contritionis, non autem mors naturalis. (Summa, “Even death inflicted as a punishment for crimes takes away the whole punishment due for those crimes in the next life, or a least part of that punishment, according to the quantities of guilt, resignation and contrition; but a natural death does not.”) The moral importance of wanting to make expiation also explains the indefatigable efforts of the Confraternity of St. John the Baptist Beheaded, the members of which used to accompany men to their deaths, all the while suggesting, begging and providing help to get them to repent and accept their deaths, so ensuring that they would die in the grace of God, as the saying went.”

Here is an excerpt from the article in National Catholic Reporter.

“An anti-abortion brochure that claims voting for Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, “flagrantly violates Catholic teaching,” is being distributed to parishioners at Catholic churches across nine battleground states and beyond.

“The method of distributing the flier, entitled “Faithful Catholic Citizenship Based Upon the Gospel of Life,” includes placing brochures on cars parked outside of parishes, handing them out before or after Mass and distributing them online. No Catholic dioceses have sanctioned the brochure or its distribution methods and one archdiocese told NCR they strongly disagree with the methods of disseminating the material. And several of those who have refused to leave church properties have been arrested for trespassing.

“Nevertheless, Randall Terry, founder of Operation Rescue, told NCR he is targeting nine states he thinks are key to this year’s election – Florida, North Carolina, Virginia, Ohio, Indiana, Missouri, New Hampshire, Nevada and Colorado. But he’s sending brochures to whoever requests them, even if the state is not in play.”

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Capitalism & the Catholic Church

Capitalism, with its vigorous blending of personal initiative, personal responsibility, and personal reward, has always been supported—in its highest manifestations—by the Catholic Church; as it provides the soundest corollary to Catholic social teaching which undergirds the seeking for personal salvation through initiative and responsibility congruent with the greatest reward of life revealed by the ancient teaching.

Yet the Church has always called out the tendencies of greed and exploitation that often accompany unbridled capitalism, and this article from the Wall Street Journal discussing a new look at global capitalism from French President Sarkozy, addresses both the good and the bad of the best economic system human beings have yet devised, that brings an increasing prosperity and freedom to the population of the world.

An excerpt.

“These days, it seems difficult to defend the efficacy, let alone the morality, of an economic approach to human interaction that is now blamed for having put the entire global economy at risk. But that is exactly what we need -- most importantly, from America's next leader.

“Sometimes it takes an outsider to help us gain perspective. Deep within the condemning speeches delivered by Mr. Sarkozy, both in New York and Toulon, are the grains of a new approach to capitalism that should give Americans reason to hope, not only for economic salvation but for a sense of redemption on a deeper level. France's president held out the possibility that all is not lost, that we can fix what is broken. "The financial crisis is not the crisis of capitalism," according to Mr. Sarkozy. "It is the crisis of a system that has distanced itself from the most fundamental values of capitalism, which betrayed the spirit of capitalism."

“It is a distinction that could make all the difference. The world at large is drawing lessons from this economic crisis that will influence the political destiny of mankind. Mr. Sarkozy is trying to harness the collective dissatisfaction into a bold call for global reform. He is calling on world leaders to hold a summit before the end of this year to lay out proposals for a new approach to international financial and monetary relations. It could be the world's biggest boondoggle -- or the dawn of a new beginning for capitalism.

“If we are to build a new foundation for global financial and monetary relations on the scale of the Bretton Woods Agreement conceived as World War II was still raging, we must summon the intellectual depth and political will that can only derive from a strong sense of moral purpose. Give credit to Mr. Sarkozy for demonstrating leadership in attempting to salvage what we know is true -- that democratic capitalism is the best hope for mankind -- while jettisoning the abuses and fraudulent practices that have distorted the outcomes of free-market competition. The French president's call for a global summit should be heeded.

“What are the basic principles that we can forge together toward this "true capitalism" that Mr. Sarkozy has described, this market economy that utilizes the power of genuine competition to serve the needs of individual producers and consumers? It is a capitalism that accords primacy to the entrepreneur -- that compensates hard work, innovative solutions, stalwart commitment and personal discipline. The values that define the character of individuals should find expression in the policies that underpin the legitimacy of governments…”

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Saint Callistus, from Criminal to Pope

St. Callistus was the criminal who became a Pope and today is his feast day.

Here is the link to the only known writing from him, the First Epistle of Pope Saint Callistus.

Here is an excerpt from the book, Saint of the Day (5th Revised Edition).

“The most reliable information about this saint comes from his enemy St. Hippolytus (August 13), the first antipope, later a martyr for the Church. A negative principle is used: If some worse things had happened, Hippolytus would surely have mentioned them.

“Callistus was a slave in the imperial Roman household. Put in charge of the bank by his master, he lost the money deposited, fled and was caught. After serving time for a while, he was released to make some attempt to recover the money. Apparently he carried his zeal too far, being arrested for brawling in a Jewish synagogue. This time he was condemned to work in the mines of Sardinia. He was released through the influence of the emperor's mistress and lived at Anzio (site of a famous World War II beachhead).

“He won his freedom and was made superintendent of the public Christian burial ground in Rome (still called the cemetery of St. Callistus), probably the first land owned by the Church. The pope ordained him a deacon and made him his friend and adviser.

“He was himself elected pope by a majority vote of the clergy and laity of Rome, and thereafter was bitterly attacked by the losing candidate, St. Hippolytus, who let himself be set up as the first antipope in the history of the Church. The schism lasted about 18 years…

“Some are of the opinion that, even from the little we know about him, Callistus may rank among the greatest popes.” (pp. 280-281)

Respect Life Sunday

From the EWTN Library, this important Pastoral Letter.

Respect Life Sunday
Most Reverend Joseph F. Martino, D.D., Hist. E.D.


My brothers and sisters in Christ,

The American Catholic bishops initiated Respect Life Sunday in 1972, the year before the Supreme Court legalized abortion in the United States. Since that time, Catholics across the country observe the month of October with devotions and pro-life activities in order to advance the culture of life. This October, our efforts have more significance than ever. Never have we seen such abusive criticism directed toward those who believe that life begins at conception and ends at natural death.

As Catholics, we should not be surprised by these developments. Forty years ago, Pope Paul VI predicted that widespread use of artificial contraceptives would lead to increased marital infidelity, lessened regard for women, and a general lowering of moral standards especially among the young. Forty years later, social scientists, not necessarily Catholics, attest to the accuracy of his predictions. As if following some bizarre script, the sexual revolution has produced widespread marital breakdown, weakened family ties, legalized abortion, sexually transmitted diseases, pornography, same-sex unions, euthanasia, destruction of human embryos for research purposes and a host of other ills.

It is impossible for me to answer all of the objections to the Church’s teaching on life that we hear every day in the media. Nevertheless, let me address a few. To begin, laws that protect abortion constitute injustice of the worst kind. They rest on several false claims including that there is no certainty regarding when life begins, that there is no certainty about when a fetus becomes a person, and that some human beings may be killed to advance the interests or convenience of others. With regard to the first, reason and science have answered the question. The life of a human being begins at conception. The Church has long taught this simple truth, and science confirms it. Biologists can now show you the delicate and beautiful development of the human embryo in its first days of existence. This is simply a fact that reasonable people accept. Regarding the second, the embryo and the fetus have the potential to do all that an adult person does. Finally, the claim that the human fetus may be sacrificed to the interests or convenience of his mother or someone else is grievously wrong. All three claims have the same result: the weakest and most vulnerable are denied, because of their age, the most basic protection that we demand for ourselves. This is discrimination at its worst, and no person of conscience should support it.

Another argument goes like this: “As wrong as abortion is, I don't think it is the only relevant ‘life’ issue that should be considered when deciding for whom to vote.” This reasoning is sound only if other issues carry the same moral weight as abortion does, such as in the case of euthanasia and destruction of embryos for research purposes. Health care, education, economic security, immigration, and taxes are very important concerns. Neglect of any one of them has dire consequences as the recent financial crisis demonstrates. However, the solutions to problems in these areas do not usually involve a rejection of the sanctity of human life in the way that abortion does. Being “right” on taxes, education, health care, immigration, and the economy fails to make up for the error of disregarding the value of a human life. Consider this: the finest health and education systems, the fairest immigration laws, and the soundest economy do nothing for the child who never sees the light of day. It is a tragic irony that “pro-choice” candidates have come to support homicide – the gravest injustice a society can tolerate – in the name of “social justice.”

Even the Church’s just war theory has moral force because it is grounded in the principle that innocent human life must be protected and defended. Now, a person may, in good faith, misapply just war criteria leading him to mistakenly believe that an unjust war is just, but he or she still knows that innocent human life may not be harmed on purpose. A person who supports permissive abortion laws, however, rejects the truth that innocent human life may never be destroyed. This profound moral failure runs deeper and is more corrupting of the individual, and of the society, than any error in applying just war criteria to particular cases.

Furthermore, National Right to Life reports that 48.5 million abortions have been performed since 1973. One would be too many. No war, no natural disaster, no illness or disability has claimed so great a price.

In saying these things in an election year, I am in very good company. My predecessor, Bishop Timlin, writing his pastoral letter on Respect Life Sunday 2000, stated the case eloquently:

Abortion is the issue this year and every year in every campaign. Catholics may not turn away from the moral challenge that abortion poses for those who seek to obey God’s commands. They are wrong when they assert that abortion does not concern them, or that it is only one of a multitude of issues of equal importance. No, the taking of innocent human life is so heinous, so horribly evil, and so absolutely opposite to the law of Almighty God that abortion must take precedence over every other issue. I repeat. It is the single most important issue confronting not only Catholics, but the entire electorate.

My fellow bishops, writing ten years ago, explained why some evils – abortion and euthanasia in particular – take precedence over other forms of violence and abuse.

The failure to protect life in its most vulnerable stages renders suspect any claims to the ‘rightness’ of positions in other matters affecting the poorest and least powerful of the human community. If we understand the human person as ‘the temple of the Holy Spirit’ – the living house of God – then these latter issues fall logically into place as the crossbeams and walls of that house. All direct attacks on innocent human life, such as abortion and euthanasia, strike at the house’s foundation [emphasis in the original]. These directly and immediately violate the human person’s most fundamental right – the right to life. Neglect of these issues is the equivalent of building our house on sand. Living the Gospel of Life: A Challenge to American Catholics, 23.

While the Church assists the State in the promotion of a just society, its primary concern is to assist men and women in achieving salvation. For this reason, it is incumbent upon bishops to correct Catholics who are in error regarding these matters. Furthermore, public officials who are Catholic and who persist in public support for abortion and other intrinsic evils should not partake in or be admitted to the sacrament of Holy Communion. As I have said before, I will be vigilant on this subject.

It is the Church’s role now to be a prophet in our own country, reminding all citizens of what our founders meant when they said that “. . . all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” The Church’s teaching that all life from conception to natural death should be protected by law is founded on religious belief to be sure, but it is also a profoundly American principle founded on reason. Whenever a society asks its citizens to violate its own foundational principles – as well as their moral consciences – citizens have a right, indeed an obligation, to refuse.

In 1941, Bishop Gustave von Galen gave a homily condemning Nazi officials for murdering mentally ill people in his diocese of Muenster, Germany. The bishop said:

“Thou shalt not kill!” God wrote this commandment in the conscience of man long before any penal code laid down the penalty for murder, long before there was any prosecutor or any court to investigate and avenge a murder. Cain, who killed his brother Abel, was a murderer long before there were any states or any courts or law. And he confessed his deed, driven by his accusing conscience: “My punishment is greater than I can bear. . . and it shall come to pass, that every one that findeth me the murderer shall slay me” (Genesis 4:13-14)”

Should he have opposed the war and remained silent about the murder of the mentally ill? No person of conscience can fail to understand why Bishop von Galen spoke as he did.

My dear friends, I beg you not to be misled by confusion and lies. Our Lord, Jesus Christ, does not ask us to follow him to Calvary only for us to be afraid of contradicting a few bystanders along the way. He does not ask us to take up his Cross only to have us leave it at the voting booth door. Recently, Pope Benedict XVI said that “God is so humble that he uses us to spread his Word.” The gospel of life, which we have the privilege of proclaiming, resonates in the heart of every person – believer and non-believer – because it fulfills the heart’s most profound desire. Let us with one voice continue to speak the language of love and affirm the right of every human being to have the value of his or her life, from conception to natural death, respected to the highest degree.

October is traditionally the month of the Rosary. Let us pray the Rosary for the strength and fortitude to uphold the truths of our faith and the requirements of our law to all who deny them. And, let us ask Our Lady to bless our nation and the weakest among us.

May Mary, the mother of Jesus, the Lord of Life, pray for us.

Sincerely yours in Christ,

Most Reverend Joseph F. Martino, D.D., Hist. E.D.
Bishop of Scranton

Monday, October 13, 2008

Party of Death

It is a tragedy that one of the great political parties in the United States has so closely aligned itself with the promotion of abortion, and the Catholic Church has recently, and somewhat reluctantly, begun to address it directly, and that is a very good thing.

In this interview with Archbishop Raymond Burke, formerly of St. Louis but now in Rome working with the Holy Father, that is noted.

An excerpt.

“With a heavy heart, Archbishop Raymond Burke acknowledges that the U.S. Democratic Party is quickly moving to become the "party of death."

“The new head of the Supreme Court of the Apostolic Signature said this in an interview published Saturday by the Italian episcopal conference's daily newspaper Avvenire…

“Q: It is a fact that you had some problems in St. Louis.

“Archbishop Burke: Indeed, there was the issue of a parish, that of St. Stanislaw Kotska, which in practice had become Protestant.

“Then the fact that, in a fundraising event, the Catholic Pediatric Hospital invited as the guest star singer Sheryl Crow, known for being a tenacious advocate of the right of procured abortion. And finally, the question of the so-called priestly ordination of two women, which even witnessed a nun among the promoters.

“In all these cases I was compelled to intervene FF — reluctantly, but I had to do it — with disciplinary procedures to avoid scandalizing the faithful.

“Q: But is St. Louis a particularly unfortunate diocese, or are these phenomena spread elsewhere?

“Archbishop Burke: The issue of the parish to one side, which is a local one, the other issues are also spread elsewhere. For example, it should be noted that other so-called ordinations of women are planned in 50 other dioceses of the United States.

“However, I must underline that at St. Louis I was not always struggling against the difficulties that were there. But I lived my episcopate with joy, seeking to favor the relationship with the clergy and seminarians. Because I think that the first duty of a good bishop is that of being close, to comfort and counsel his priests. The bishop cannot do anything without the priests. And I must say that this care was compensated by a good number of new vocations, thank God.

“Q: You mentioned singer Sheryl Crow. You must have noted that she was invited to sing at the Democratic National Convention in Denver.

“Archbishop Burke: To tell the truth, I paid no attention, but I must say that the news does not much surprise me.

“At this point, the Democratic Party risks transforming itself definitively into a "party of death" due to its choices on bioethical issues, as Ramesh Ponnuru wrote in his book "The Party of Death: The Democrats, the Media, the Courts and the Disregard for Human Life."

“And I say this with a heavy heart, because we all know that the Democrats were the party that helped our Catholic immigrant parents and grandparents to better integrate into and prosper in American society. But it's not the same anymore.

“Nonetheless, there are among Democrats some pro-lifers, but they are, unfortunately, rare.”

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Pogrom in India

In India Christians are being killed and driven from their villages, and part of the reason may be that the Christians in India are converting—as did Christ—from the lowest classes; in this case the caste of the untouchables, so oppressed by the Hindus that even Gandhi resisted giving them any rights.

This was written about in First Things recently and here is an excerpt.

“On August 23 of this year, armed men stormed a Hindu school in the Kandhamal district in Orissa, a remote and destitute state in eastern India, and killed the Hindu leader Laxmanananda Saraswati and four of his followers. (Saraswati had belonged to a radical Hindu association opposed to the conversion of Hindus to Christianity.) Although the police suspected Maoist rebels were responsible (a letter was left behind by a local Maoist group claiming responsibility), local Hindus blamed Christians and in retaliation five hundred houses were burned.

“Since that fateful evening, Hindu violence against Christians has spread throughout south and central parts of the country. Not two days later, at least sixteen people were killed in a nearby village, in a clearly premeditated attack. Reporters for the New York Times wrote:

“Those who came to attack Christians here early last week set their trap well, residents say. First, they built makeshift barricades of trees and small boulders along the roads leading into this village, apparently to stop the police from intervening. Then, villagers say, the attackers went on a rampage. Chanting “Kill these pigs” and “All Hindus are brothers,” the mob began breaking into homes that displayed posters of Jesus, stealing valuables and eventually burning the buildings. When they found residents who had not fled to the nearby jungle, they beat them with sticks or maimed them with axes and left them to die. A local official said three people died as a result of the attack on August 25. The carefully placed roadblocks accomplished their purpose; residents say a full day passed before help arrived. One villager, Asha Lata Nayak, said, “I saw the mob carrying sticks, axes, swords, knives, and small guns. They first demolished the village church and later Christian houses. Nobody came forward to help us.”

“The violence continues to this day and has spread far beyond Orissa. Given the large number of incidents involved, repeated over several weeks, one cannot help wondering why these events have received so little coverage in the rest of the media. (With one exception—the Times story cited above—I learned all I know about these events from Catholic websites.) Of course, there is an election going on, and Wall Street is under assault from a herd of wild bears. But still.

“No doubt, part of the problem is that Hinduism is the most nation-specific religion on the planet, and no country is harder for the foreigner to understand than India. Among other implications, this means that Hindu violence—whether against Muslims, Sikhs, or Christians—remains confined to India, which, vast as it is, does not present the geopolitical challenge as does Muslim radicalism.

“Another dimension to these woes comes from the fact that the modern, independent state of India was midwifed by the most remarkable orgy of communal violence in human history: More than one-and-a-half million Muslims, Sikhs, and Hindus (though not so many Christians) died in mutual massacres during the slow partition of Pakistan from India that culminated in full independence from Britain for both countries in August 1947. The embers of this violent birth have never died out, as the novelist and Nobel laureate V.S. Naipaul noted in his usual sardonic way:

“The liberation of spirit that has come to India [since 1947] could not come as release alone. In India, with its layer below layer of distress and cruelty, it had to come as disturbance. It had to come as rage and revolt. India was now a country of a million little mutinies.

“Underneath all those little “layered mutinies” lurks what might be called the Greater Ongoing Mutiny: the demand for full political rights by the untouchable caste (often called by their Hindi name, dalits, and by the euphemism “Scheduled Classes” in government officialese). Even the Mahatma Gandhi opposed dalit political rights. (He once told an American interviewer, “Untouchability for me is more insufferable than British rule; if Hinduism embraces [it], then Hinduism is dead and gone.”)”

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Bishops Being Bishops

This is a great essay from Catholic Thing on the scandalous action last election season around Catholic politicians who defy the stand of the Church on abortion (with little reaction from leading US Bishops who were apparently defying the Holy Father who urged them to speak out) and the great change in this year’s season.

An excerpt.

“What a difference four years make. In 2004 a small number of bishops publicly criticized the pro-abortion position of the Democrat running for president. This election year, they have grown to a large and lusty choir taking strong public stands against the pro-abortion politics of the Democratic ticket and their loudest supporters. Why such a difference from 2004 to now?...

“We know now that things spun out of control. While Cardinal McCarrick’s final report was scheduled for after the election, the bishops held one of their twice-annual meetings in Colorado that June and two unusual things happened: the mostly liberal lay staff was booted out of the meeting so that the bishops could talk without their influence, and Cardinal McCarrick delivered “interim reflections” of the task force.

“He warned against denying anyone the Eucharist, and he claimed that “Vatican officials” also “advised caution,” and concluded that, “The task force does not advocate the denial of Communion to Catholic politicians.”

“Yet several days later the actual memorandum from Cardinal Ratzinger to Cardinal McCarrick was leaked to the press, showing that Ratzinger had said, in fact, that pro-abortion Catholic politicians “must” be refused Communion after proper counseling and obstinate persistence in defying Church teaching. Ultimately, the bishops as a body produced a document leaving the matter to the discretion of each bishop in his own diocese.

“This is old news, but sheds new light on the current debate. This year there is no McCarrick Committee keeping the conversation sotto voce among an elite few. And this year the bishops are thundering. It is not just the heroic few – Chaput, Burke, and a few others – who were willing to suffer criticism in 2004. Now it is a whole bunch of them, more than thirty at this point. Moreover, the list includes those – like Edward Cardinal Egan of New York and McCarrick's successor Archbishop Donald Wuerl of Washington DC – who have tended to work quietly behind the scenes in the past.

“Other things have changed. In years past, the partisan and the timid seemed to put a damper on an enthusiastic pro-life message coming out of the USCCB and from individual bishops. Some of them are gone, including Democrat Frank Monaghan who for thirty years ran the bishops’ governmental lobby shop. Gone also is Mark Chopko, the general counsel who regularly frightened pro-life Bishops with the IRS boogeyman.”

Friday, October 10, 2008

Helping the Community

The Baby Boomer generation is oriented to helping and many are now retiring, promising an explosion of volunteers to the nation’s nonprofits—so we devoutly wish—and this new report focuses on that.

The last paragraph of the second excerpt tells a sad story and one wonders if there is any regret that they didn’t do more, but as with most things in life, it is never too late.

An excerpt from the News Release from AARP about the report, with a link to the full report.

“Tens of millions of Baby Boomers and members of the Silent Generation, while not as civically active as the Greatest Generation in their younger years, are healthier, living longer and appear ready to increase their civic participation. In an effort to better understand the civic behaviors and attitudes of Americans and to help ground the research in the stories and perspectives of the Boomer and Silent Generations, AARP commissioned a series of focus groups and a nationally representative survey of Americans ages 44-79 (“Experienced Americans”).”

Second excerpt, from the report.

“The central message of this report is that tens of millions of Baby Boomers and members of the Silent Generation, while not as civically active as the Greatest Generation in their younger years, are healthier, living longer and appear ready to increase their civic participation in retirement.

“Sadly, Americans from these two generations believe they will leave the world in worse condition than they inherited it. Many who do not currently volunteer feel they have not been asked, and volunteers and non-volunteers alike identify barriers and motivations that help point the way forward. The sheer number of Boomers provides an opportunity to have a transformative effect. We believe there is significant potential to increase volunteering and civic engagement in America, particularly among regular volunteers, churchgoers, Boomer women, African Americans, and Hispanics, and to design policies and initiatives that tap the talents of these extraordinary generations….

“Fifty-five percent of Experienced Americans believe they will leave the world in worse condition than they inherited it, while only 20 percent believe they are leaving the world in better condition. Those most actively engaged in volunteer work feel less pessimistic and are more likely to increase their service than those not engaged.”

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Synod of Bishops

A very important synod is occurring at the Vatican concerning the Bible, and John Allen reports on its first day in this article from the National Catholic Reporter.

An excerpt.

“On the first day of talks today at the Synod of Bishops on the Bible, which opened here Oct. 5, one theme seems to be emerging: the desire for a deeply spiritual way of reading Scripture, one that lies beyond both empty piety and parsing the text to death through historical and literary study…

“Cardinal Marc Ouellet of Quebec City, the relator of the synod, issued a strong call for what he called “spiritual exegesis” of the Bible, premised not just on cognitive understanding but, above all, on personal faith and commitment.

“Prominent in Ouellet’s audience this morning in the Vatican’s Synod Hall was Pope Benedict XVI, who plans to be present for most of the discussions over the next three weeks. The synod runs through Oct. 26th.

“Ouellet proposed a new “Marian paradigm” for Scripture study – using the Virgin Mary as a model of a response to God’s Word that, in his words, is “dynamic,” “dialogical,” and “contemplative.”

“Among other things, Ouellet argued that the Bible has to be seen as part of a broader relationship with Jesus Christ, the “living Word of God,” that’s both personal and also rooted in the community of the church.

“Christianity is not really a “religion of the Book,” Ouellet said, but rather a “religion of the Word – not solely or mainly of the Word in its written form.”

“The synod was created by Pope Paul VI in 1969 to give the bishops of the world a regular voice in the governance of the universal church…

“Especially since the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), Catholic Bible scholarship made great strides towards a more rigorous form of study, drawing on archeology, linguistics, and the social sciences, but some charge that in the process the spiritual dimension of the Bible was either forgotten or deliberately suppressed…

“Ouellet argued that the Bible must be read within the “living tradition” of the church, especially its official teaching authority, in order to avoid what he termed “subjectivist” readings. He was also critical of what he called “a questioning of the unity of the scriptures and excessive fragmentation of interpretations” among some Biblical scholars, as well as a “climate of often unhealthy tension between university theology and the ecclesiastical magisterium.”

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Our Lady of the Rosary

Yesterday was the feast day of Our Lady of the Rosary, reminding us of the magnificent circumstances surrounding the granting of this day in honor of the Rosary, which plays a central part in the daily practice of those who would be saints, and should we not all so wish.

The Hallowed Ground Weblog—which should be on your daily web browsing list—has a marvelous collection of art honoring this feast day, and hat tip to Hallowed for the the photo of art from the Vatican, and on their site you can enlarge to see it in its full magnificent glory.

In addition here is an excerpt from the Saint of the Day article.

“Pope St. Pius V established this feast in 1573. The purpose was to thank God for the victory of Christians over the Turks at Lepanto—a victory attributed to the praying of the rosary. Clement XI extended the feast to the universal Church in 1716.

“The development of the rosary has a long history. First, a practice developed of praying 150 Our Fathers in imitation of the 150 Psalms. Then there was a parallel practice of praying 150 Hail Marys. Soon a mystery of Jesus' life was attached to each Hail Mary. Though Mary's giving the rosary to St. Dominic is recognized as unhistorical, the development of this prayer form owes much to the followers of St. Dominic. One of them, Alan de la Roche, was known as "the apostle of the rosary." He founded the first Confraternity of the Rosary in the 15th century. In the 16th century the rosary was developed to its present form—with the 15 mysteries (joyful, sorrowful and glorious). In 2002, Pope John Paul II added the Mysteries of Light to this devotion.”

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Dark Night of the Soul

I’ve lately become a fan of the comics made into movies as they often explore in great subtlety and depth the struggles humans face with good and evil, and I consistently see the quiet voice of God behind the bold dramas played out on the screen.

This review of the new Batman movie—though revealing more plot than someone who hasn’t yet seen the movie might appreciate—is just such a revelation.

An excerpt from the review at Catholic Thing.

"Evil in pure form is represented by the Joker. He not only does evil, but lives to seduce seemingly decent people into doing evil – so that they will see their goodness, and goodness in general, as an illusion. He even kills other criminals, his wickedness being so far beyond theirs that even they are relatively innocent victims. He is the ultimate utilitarian, inviting people to kill or disgrace others on the pretext that they will save more people by doing so. The scene in which he encourages each of two boatloads of people to blow up the other boat, to save themselves, is especially harrowing. The reality is that if they save themselves by doing evil, they lose, and the Joker wins. The denouement suggests, however, that maybe Gotham’s people are worth saving after all.

"The Joker is an embodiment of evil so convincing, so enigmatic, so thoroughly creepy, that it’s easy to believe that playing the role factored into Heath Ledger’s death by drug overdose. He has no known identity, no background, but infinite ingenuity and resources. At one point we think there‘s a childhood cause for his mania and facial scars – but later he gives a completely different explanation, and we realize he is merely playing with our expectations of a rational cause. He is, as is said at one point, an “agent of chaos.” For all intents and purposes, he is Satan. (Roger Ebert says Mephistopheles – I won’t argue demons with him.)

"The forces of good capable of fighting this seemingly unstoppable force are conflicted and complicated. And here we are forced to meditate on what it means to be a hero."

Monday, October 6, 2008

Liberation Theology

Though the Church has clearly refuted this Marxist inspired and astoundingly incorrect—yet still seductive—way of practicing the faith of the Catholic Church, we see it clinging to life in many parishes and through the writings of many Catholics in (for one example) their refusal to talk about the evil of abortion without talking about the evils of American capitalism or militarism; and this reliance on the salvific arguments of economics and politics, was noted in 2000 by Pope Benedict in the new introduction to his classic work, Introduction to Christianity, also published as an article in Communio magazine, in writing of the birth of liberation theology in Latin America.

An excerpt.

“This new translation of ideas into practice, this new fusion of the Christian impulse with secular and political action, was like a lightning-bolt; the real fires that it set, however, were in Latin America. The theology of liberation seemed for more than a decade to point the way by which the faith might again shape the world, because it was making common cause with the findings and worldly wisdom of the hour. No one could dispute the fact that there was in Latin America, to a horrifying extent, oppression, unjust rule, the concentration of property and power in the hands of a few, and the exploitation of the poor, and there was no disputing either that something had to be done. And since it was a question of countries with a Catholic majority, there could be no doubt that the Church bore the responsibility here and that the faith had to prove itself as a force for justice. But how? Now Marx appeared to be the great guidebook. He was said to be playing now the role that had fallen to Aristotle in the thirteenth century; the latter’s pre-Christian (that is, “pagan”) philosophy had to be baptized, in order to bring faith and reason into the proper relation to one another. But anyone who accepts Marx (in whatever neo-Marxist variation he may choose) as the representative of worldly reason, not only accepts a philosophy, a vision of the origin and meaning of existence, but also and especially adopts a practical program. For this “philosophy” is essentially a “praxis,” which does not presuppose a “truth” but rather creates one. Anyone who makes Marx the philosopher of theology adopts the primacy of politics and economics, which now become the real powers that can bring about salvation (and, if misused, can wreak havoc). The redemption of mankind, to this way of thinking, occurs through politics and economics, in which the form of the future is determined. This primacy of praxis and politics meant, above all, that God could not be categorized as something “practical.” The “reality” in which one had to get involved now was solely the material reality of given historical circumstances, which were to be viewed critically and reformed, redirected to the right goals by using the appropriate means, among which violence was indispensable. From this perspective, speaking about God belongs neither to the realm of the practical nor to that of reality. If it was to be indulged in at all, it would have to be postponed until the more important work had been done. What remained was the figure of Jesus, who of course no longer appeared now as the Christ, but rather as the embodiment of all the suffering and oppressed and as their spokesman, who calls us to rise up, to change society. What was new in all this was that the program of changing the world, which in Marx was intended to be not only atheistic but also anti religious, was now filled with religious passion and was based on religious principles: a new reading of the Bible (especially of the Old Testament) and a liturgy that was celebrated as a symbolic fulfillment of the revolution and as a preparation for it.

“It must be admitted: by means of this remarkable synthesis, Christianity had stepped once more onto the world stage and had become an “epoch-making” message. It is no surprise that the socialist states took a stand in favor of this movement. More noteworthy is the fact that, even in the “capitalist” countries, liberation theology was the darling of public opinion; to contradict it was viewed positively as a sin against humanity and mankind, even though no one, naturally, wanted to see the practical measures applied in their own situation, because they of course had already arrived at a just social order. Now it cannot be denied that in the various liberation theologies there really were some worthwhile insights as well. All of these plans for an epoch-making synthesis of Christianity and the world had to step aside, however, the moment that that faith in politics as a salvific force collapsed. Man is, indeed, as Aristotle says, a “political being,” but he cannot be reduced to politics and economics. I see the real and most profound problem with the liberation theologies in their effective omission of the idea of God, which of course also changed the figure of Christ fundamentally (as we have indicated). Not as though God had been denied—not on your life! It’s just that he was not needed in regard to the “reality” that mankind had to deal with. God had nothing to do.

“One is struck by this point and suddenly wonders: Was that the case only in liberation theology? Or was this theory able to arrive at such an assessment of the question about God—that the question was not a practical one for the long-overdue business of changing the world—only because the Christian world thought much the same thing, or rather, lived in much the same way, without reflecting on it or noticing it? Hasn’t Christian consciousness acquiesced to a great extent—without being aware of it—in the attitude that faith in God is something subjective, which belongs in the private realm and not in the common activities of public life where, in order to be able to get along, we all have to behave now “etsi Deus non daretur” (“as if there were no God”)? Wasn’t it necessary to find a way that would be valid, in case it turned out that God doesn’t exist? And, indeed it happened automatically that, when the faith stepped out of the inner sanctum of ecclesiastical matters into the general public, it had nothing for God to do and left him where he was: in the private realm, in the intimate sphere that doesn’t concern anyone else. It didn’t take any particular negligence, and certainly not a deliberate denial, to leave God as a God with nothing to do, especially since his Name had been misused so often. But the faith would really have come out of the ghetto only if it had brought its most distinctive feature with it into the public arena: the God who judges and suffers, the God who sets limits and standards for us; the God from whom we come and to whom we are going. But as it was, it really remained in the ghetto, having by now absolutely nothing to do.” (pp. 483-485)

Sunday, October 5, 2008

St. Faustina & Divine Mercy

Today is the feast day of St. Faustina and she brought us the Divine Mercy prayer, which is a wonderful way to pray the rosary—part of my weekly devotion—and you can find information about that from the Divine Mercy Chaplet website at Catholic City, or the Pray the Divine Mercy website.

Here is an excerpt from the Saint of the Day site.

“St. Mary Faustina's name is forever linked to the annual feast of the Divine Mercy (celebrated on the Second Sunday of Easter), the divine mercy chaplet and the divine mercy prayer recited each day by many people at 3 p.m.

“Born in what is now west-central Poland (part of Germany before World War I), Helena was the third of 10 children. After age 16 she worked as a housekeeper in three cities before joining the Congregation of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy in 1925. She worked as a cook, gardener and porter in three of their houses.

“In addition to carrying out her work faithfully, generously serving the needs of the sisters and the local people, she also had a deep interior life. This included receiving revelations from the Lord Jesus, messages that she recorded in her diary at the request of Christ and of her confessors.

“At a time when some Catholics had an image of God as such a strict judge that they might be tempted to despair about the possibility of being forgiven, Jesus chose to emphasize his mercy and forgiveness for sins acknowledged and confessed. “I do not want to punish aching mankind,” he once told St. Mary Faustina, “but I desire to heal it, pressing it to my merciful heart” (Diary of St. Faustina 1588). The two rays emanating from Christ's heart, she said, represent the blood and water poured out after Jesus' death (Gospel of John 19:34)”

Saturday, October 4, 2008

The Beatitudes, Part Seven

The Beatitudes are among the most lofty—and often perplexing—teachings given to us by Christ, and one book I’ve been reading is an excellent study from a social perspective; The Divine Pity: A Study in the Social Implications of the Beatitudes, by Rev. Gerald Vann, O.P., and I’m posting some quotes from it as well as commentary from the Douay Rheims with the Haydock Commentary, and The Navarre Bible, Matthew.

This is the seventh and final beatitude discussed by Reverend Vann..

Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.” (Matthew 5:9)

Rev. Haydock Says:

“Ver. 9. To be peaceful ourselves and with others, and to bring such as are at variance together, will entitle us to be children of God. Thus we shall be raised to a participation in the honour of the only begotten Son of God, who descended from heaven to bring peace to man, and to reconcile him with his offended Creator. (St. Chrysostom, hom. xv.)”

The Navarre Bible says:

“9. The translation “peacemakers” well conveys the active meaning of the original text—those who foster peace, in themselves and in others and, as a basis for that, try to be reconciled and to reconcile others with God. Being at peace with God is the cause and the effect of every kind of peace. Any peace on earth not based on this divine peace would be vain and misleading.

“They shall be called sons of God”: this is a Hebraicism often found in Sacred Scripture; it is the same as saying “they will be sons of God”. St John’s first letter (3:1) provides a correct exegesis of this Beatitude: “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.”

Rev. Vann says:

“The quality in our relations with our fellow men which, says St. Thomas, immediately disposes us to the life of vision is the love of peace. And why? Because the life of vision—the life of the quiet prayer of wonder and the greater prayer of union—is incompatible with agitation. You cannot adore the Other in self-oblivion, you cannot “cast all your cares away,” if you are tossed about on a sea of worries and solicitudes about external things; nor can you if you are not yet at peace within the mind itself because of a lack of complete identity of will with the infinite Will. “Wisdom,” says St. Augustine, “is to the peace-lovers, in whom there is no movement of rebellion, but obedience to Reason.” But wisdom is the end.

“It is useful for man to have much information about matters of fact; but that is not wisdom. It is useful to have scientific knowledge, to know the immediate what and why of things; but that is not wisdom either. It is better to have philosophy, which is the knowledge of things, not in their immediate but in their ultimate, causes; that is wisdom, though it is not the highest form of wisdom. It is wisdom because it does reduce the manifold of life to the one, and therefore makes things intelligible as a unity; but you need to make the dry bones live, the vision, the intuition or awareness, of things in all their concreteness, their goodness and beauty as well as their truth; above all, you need some degree, at least, of direct knowledge of the nature of the one; and when you have that vision in its plentitude—the plentitude which, knowing something of God in Himself, sees all things in Him and Him in all things—and at the same time the wisdom which judges all things in the light of the highest of all causes, the fullest and deepest sense; and seeing things as it were with the eyes of God, you share something of the peace of God.” (pp. 205-206)