Tuesday, March 31, 2009

One Million at Mass

A mass celebrated by the Pope in Africa recently drew one million people, as reported by the Catholic Herald of the United Kingdom.

An excerpt.

“Pope Benedict XVI urged Africans to embrace the Gospel and disperse the "clouds of evil" that have brought war, ethnic rivalry, tribalism and greed to the continent at a Mass for up to a million Angolans on Sunday.

“In a country devastated by 27 years of civil war the Pope quoted the biblical admonition that war can "destroy everything of value".

“He said: "This experience is all too familiar to Africa as a whole: the destructive power of civil strife, the descent into a maelstrom of hatred and revenge, the squandering of the efforts of generations of good people."

“The Mass, celebrated on a vast esplanade in an industrial suburb of Luanda, was the liturgical highlight of his stay in Angola and drew the biggest crowd of his week-long visit to Africa. Some had spent the night at the site to guarantee a good seat.”

Monday, March 30, 2009

Ruler of this World

In yesterday’s Gospel reading, John 12:20-33, there was one line that struck me as it questioned my understanding that the prince of this world remains so, and I went to a marvelous resource from the Holy See, Congregation for the Clergy, which provides commentary from many sources on scripture and found this from a sermon by Saint Augustine which cleared it up wonderfully.

First, the line and the one before and after from the Gospel of John.

30 Jesus answered and said, "This voice did not come for my sake but for yours. 31 Now is the time of judgment on this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. 32 And when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself."

The excerpt from St. Augustine.

“7. Attend, in short, to His own words. For just as if we had been inquiring what He meant by saying, “Now is the judgment of the world,” He proceeded to explain it when He says, “Now shall the prince of this world be cast out.” What we have thus heard was the kind of judgment He meant. Not that one, therefore, which is yet to come in the end, when the living and dead shall be judged, some of them set apart on His right hand, and the others on His left; but that judgment by which “the prince of this world shall be cast out.” In what sense, then, was he within, and whither did He mean that he was to be cast out? Was it this: That he was in the world and was cast forth beyond its boundaries? For had He been speaking of that judgment which is yet to come in the end, some one’s thoughts might have turned to that eternal fire into which the devil is to be cast with his angels, and all who belong to him;-that is, not naturally, but through moral delinquency; not because he created or begat them, but because he persuaded and kept hold of them: some one, therefore, might have thought that that eternal fire was outside the world, and that this was the meaning of the words, “he shall be cast out.” But as He says, “Now is the judgment of this world,” and in explanation of His meaning, adds, “Now shall the prince of this world be cast out,” we are thereby to understand what is now being done, and not what is to be, so long afterwards, at the last day. The Lord, therefore, foretold what He knew, that after His own passion and glorification, many nations throughout the whole world, in whose hearts the devil was an inmate, would become believers, and the devil, when thus renounced by faith, is cast out.

“8. But some one says, Was he then not cast out of the hearts of the patriarchs and prophets, and the righteous of olden time? Certainly he was. How, then, is it said, “Now he shall be cast out”? How else can we think of it, but that what was then done in the case of a very few individuals, was now foretold as speedily to take place in many and mighty nations? Just as also that other saying, “For the Spirit was not yet given, because that Jesus was not yet glorified,” may suggest a similar inquiry, and find a similar solution. For it was not without the Holy Spirit that the prophets predicted the events of the future; nor was it so that the aged Simeon and the widowed Anna knew by the Holy Spirit the infant Lord; and that Zacharias and Elisabeth uttered by the Holy Spirit so many predictions concerning Him, when He was not yet born, but only conceived. But “the Spirit was not yet given;” that is, with that abundance of spiritual grace which enabled those assembled together to speak in every language, and thus announce beforehand in the language of every nation the Church of the future: and so by ’this spiritual grace it was that nations were gathered into congregations, sins were pardoned far and wide, and thousands of thousands were reconciled unto God.

“9. But then, says some one, since the devil is thus cast out of the hearts of believers, does he now tempt none of the faithful? Nay, verily, he does not cease to tempt. But it is one thing to reign within, another to assail from without; for in like manner the best fortified city is sometimes attacked by an enemy without being taken. And if some of his arrows are discharged, and reach us, the apostle reminds us how to render them harmless, when he speaks of the breastplate and the shield of faith. And if he sometimes wounds us, we have the remedy at hand. For as the combatants are told, “These things I write unto you, that ye sin not:” so those who are wounded have the sequel to listen to, “And if any man sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ, the righteous; and He is the propitiation for our sins.” And what do we pray for when we say, “Forgive us our debts,” but for the healing of our wounds? And what else do we ask, when we say, “Lead us not into temptation,” but that he who thus lies in wait for us, or assails us from without, may fail on every side to effect an entrance, and be unable to overcome us either by fraud or force? Nevertheless, whatever engines of war he may erect against us, so long as he has no more a place in the heart that faith inhabits, he is cast out. But “except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain.” Presume not, therefore, about yourselves, if you would not have the devil, who has once been cast out, to be recalled within.

“10. On the other hand, let us be far from supposing that the devil is called in any such way the prince of the world, as that we should believe him possessed of power to rule over the heaven and the earth. The world is so spoken of in respect of wicked men, who have overspread the whole earth; just as a house is spoken of in respect to its inhabitants, and we accordingly say, It is a good house, or a bad house; not as finding fault with, or approving of, the erection of walls and roofs, but the morals either of the good or the bad within it. In a similar way, therefore, it is said, “The prince of this world;” that is, the prince of all the wicked who inhabit this world. The world is also spoken of in respect to the good, who in like manner have overspread the whole earth; and hence the apostle says, “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself.” These are they out of whose hearts the prince of this world is ejected.

“11. Accordingly, after saying, “Now shall the prince of this world be cast out,” He added, “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all things19 after me.” And what “all” is that, but those out of which the other is ejected? But He did not say, All men, but “all things;” for all men have not faith. And, therefore, He did not allude to the totality of men, but to the creature in its personal integrity, that is, to spirit, and soul, and body; or all that which makes us the intelligent, living, visible, and palpable beings we are. For He who said, “Not a hair of your head shall perish,” is He who draweth all things after Him. Or if by “all things” it is men that are to be understood, we can speak of all things that are foreordained to salvation: of all which He declared, when previously speaking of His sheep, that not one of them would be lost. And of a certainty all classes of men, both of every language and every age, and all grades of rank, and all diversities of talents, and all the professions of lawful and useful arts, and all else that can be named in accordance with the innumerable differences by which men, save in sin alone, are mutually separated, from the highest to the lowest, and from the king to the beggar, “all,” He says, “will I draw after me;” that He may be their head, and they His members. But this will be, He adds, “if I be lifted up from the earth,” that is, when I am lifted up; for He has no doubt of the future accomplishment of that which He came to fulfill. He here alludes to what He said before: “But if the corn of wheat die, it bringeth forth much fruit.” For what else did He signify by His lifting up, than His suffering on the cross, an explanation which the evangelist himself has not omitted; for he has appended the words, “And this He said signifying what death He should die.”

Sunday, March 29, 2009

St. Hesychius of Jerusalem

A call to the practice of daily communion—absolutely crucial for those reformed criminals (and any others) working to reform other criminals—from a saint whose feast day was yesterday.

“Not only is the name of today's saint a bit hard to pronounce and spell. It's also difficult to learn about such a modest and gentle man who lived in the fourth and fifth century and who is better known in the Russian Orthodox Church. …

“Some of his commentaries on the books of the Bible as well, along with meditations on the prophets and homilies on the Blessed Virgin Mary, still survive.

“It's believed Hesychius delivered Easter homilies in the basilica in Jerusalem thought to be the place of the crucifixion.

“His words on the Eucharist, written centuries ago, speak to us today: "Keep yourselves free from sin so that every day you may share in the mystic meal; by doing so our bodies become the body of Christ."

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Labor & the Social Teaching

Labor, ethically, is more important than capital, as before there was capital, there was labor, and the call to humans to live from the results of their labor has been built into the Church since Genesis.

The first—in the modern period—papal encyclical to address this was that of Leo XIII, and Rerum Novarum (On Capital and Labor) in 1891, clearly set the Church beside the labor unions, whidch are so crucial for workers to have an organized voice protecting them from the commoditization of labor that accompanied the industrial revolution.

Rerum Novarum is part of the body of papal documents—listed by Pope Benedict XVI in his first encyclical Deus Caritas Est—that form Lampstand’s Social Magisterium, posted to our website.

The opening sections of this remarkable encyclical one hundred eight years ago this coming May 15th, stirred the world and reading them again—perhaps in the light of the events of today—can help us to understand why.

Rights and Duties of Capital and Labor

“That the spirit of revolutionary change, which has long been disturbing the nations of the world, should have passed beyond the sphere of politics and made its influence felt in the cognate sphere of practical economics is not surprising. The elements of the conflict now raging are unmistakable, in the vast expansion of industrial pursuits and the marvellous discoveries of science; in the changed relations between masters and workmen; in the enormous fortunes of some few individuals, and the utter poverty of the masses; the increased self reliance and closer mutual combination of the working classes; as also, finally, in the prevailing moral degeneracy. The momentous gravity of the state of things now obtaining fills every mind with painful apprehension; wise men are discussing it; practical men are proposing schemes; popular meetings, legislatures, and rulers of nations are all busied with it - actually there is no question which has taken deeper hold on the public mind.

“2. Therefore, venerable brethren, as on former occasions when it seemed opportune to refute false teaching, We have addressed you in the interests of the Church and of the common weal, and have issued letters bearing on political power, human liberty, the Christian constitution of the State, and like matters, so have We thought it expedient now to speak on the condition of the working classes. It is a subject on which We have already touched more than once, incidentally. But in the present letter, the responsibility of the apostolic office urges Us to treat the question of set purpose and in detail, in order that no misapprehension may exist as to the principles which truth and justice dictate for its settlement. The discussion is not easy, nor is it void of danger. It is no easy matter to define the relative rights and mutual duties of the rich and of the poor, of capital and of labor. And the danger lies in this, that crafty agitators are intent on making use of these differences of opinion to pervert men's judgments and to stir up the people to revolt.

“3. In any case we clearly see, and on this there is general agreement, that some opportune remedy must be found quickly for the misery and wretchedness pressing so unjustly on the majority of the working class: for the ancient workingmen's guilds were abolished in the last century, and no other protective organization took their place. Public institutions and the laws set aside the ancient religion. Hence, by degrees it has come to pass that working men have been surrendered, isolated and helpless, to the hardheartedness of employers and the greed of unchecked competition. The mischief has been increased by rapacious usury, which, although more than once condemned by the Church, is nevertheless, under a different guise, but with like injustice, still practiced by covetous and grasping men. To this must be added that the hiring of labor and the conduct of trade are concentrated in the hands of comparatively few; so that a small number of very rich men have been able to lay upon the teeming masses of the laboring poor a yoke little better than that of slavery itself.

“4. To remedy these wrongs the socialists, working on the poor man's envy of the rich, are striving to do away with private property, and contend that individual possessions should become the common property of all, to be administered by the State or by municipal bodies. They hold that by thus transferring property from private individuals to the community, the present mischievous state of things will be set to rights, inasmuch as each citizen will then get his fair share of whatever there is to enjoy. But their contentions are so clearly powerless to end the controversy that were they carried into effect the working man himself would be among the first to suffer. They are, moreover, emphatically unjust, for they would rob the lawful possessor, distort the functions of the State, and create utter confusion in the community.”

Friday, March 27, 2009

Catholics, Abortion, & US Politics

The mix of these three elements has been the cause of a serious reduction in the protection of human life in the United States and while it continues, there is much to be learned from some history and this article, from the Wall Street Journal, is a good brief on that history in reference to the recent invitation to our president to speak at our university, Notre Dame.

An excerpt.

"We hope for this to be the basis of an engagement with him." So explains Notre Dame's president, the Rev. John Jenkins, as he discusses the university's choice of Barack Obama as this year's commencement speaker. In yesterday's student newspaper "The Observer," where the quotation appears, the thought is introduced with another helpful bromide: The honor accorded President Obama, it is reported, will be a "catalyst for dialogue."

“Now, if the president were going to Notre Dame to engage in dialogue, that would be one thing. But Mr. Obama will not be going to Notre Dame to "dialogue." He will be going to help advance his agenda.

“At the center of that agenda is abortion. Leave aside his enthusiasm for the Freedom of Choice Act, or the way he misrepresented his role in killing an Illinois state ban on partial-birth abortion. Already as president, Mr. Obama has ended restrictions that prevented taxpayer dollars from funding abortions overseas; opened a path for using taxpayer dollars to encourage the destruction of embryos for research; and taken aim at a "conscience clause" designed to protect doctors, nurses and others from being forced to participate in procedures (including abortion) that violate their consciences.

“Within the Democratic Party these days, these are all orthodox positions. But it wasn't always so. We forget it now, but back in the day, Jesse Jackson was calling abortion "genocide," Al Gore had a pro-life record in the House, and even Ted Kennedy could write letters saying, "Wanted or unwanted, I believe that human life, even at its earliest stages, has certain rights which must be recognized."

“In this party, Catholic leaders such as the Rev. Theodore Hesburgh, then president of Notre Dame, still enjoyed tremendous influence. Had they used that influence to try to arrest the Democrats' slide on life, things might have been very different today. Instead, they became classic enablers, treating abortion as an irritating issue that needed to be placed off to the side.

“Thus, in 1984, Notre Dame famously handed its platform over to then Gov. Mario Cuomo, who bequeathed to delighted pro-choice Catholics the same personally-opposed-but rationale that Stephen Douglas had used in his debates with Lincoln. A few years later, the university followed up by awarding its Laetare Medal, one of the American Catholicism's most prestigious, to Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan -- another Catholic who had long since cut his conscience to accommodate the pro-choice direction of his party.

“There was, of course, a different path. This was the path taken by the Democratic governor of Pennsylvania, Robert Casey Sr. A liberal on almost every issue save life, Casey Sr. signed into law restrictions on abortion that ended up with a Supreme Court case bearing his name. In 1992, party leaders responded to his criticisms of their abortion position by humiliating him at the Democratic convention in New York. Rather than recant, four years later he was planning a run against President Bill Clinton until ill health forced him to withdraw.”

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Alinsky and Maritain

There has been a lot of discussion lately about Saul Alinsky, a very influential social thinker who wrote Rules for Radicals, and who also has played a major role in the development of the thinking of our current president; but what few know is that Alinsky carried on a lengthy correspondence with one of the most influential Catholic thinkers of that period, Jacques Maritain (often described as an ultraconservative Catholic), and it was clearly a correspondence of conversion.

There is a wonderful book of their 26 years of correspondence, The Philosopher and the Provocateur: The Correspondence of Jacques Maritain and Saul Alinsky, which reveal a very close friendship that was built clearly on the understanding, by Maritain, that Alinsky was a man of very good intent and substantial skills who could be converted to Catholicism.

Maritain understood that everyone, with a foundation of good will, can be redeemed, and he spent many years attempting to convert Alinsky, and who knows what good came of that relationship and what bad was prevented.

Here is an excerpt from the introduction of the book of their correspondence, by the editor Bernard Doering.

“During his wartime exile in America, Maritain met Alinsky some time after the founding of the Back of the Yards Council, probably through George N. Schuster, former editor of Commonweal, later chairman of the board of trustees of Alinsky’s Industrial Areas Foundation and, at the time, president of Hunter College where Maritain had given the inaugural address for the Free French University in exile (Ecole Libre des Hautes Etudes) of which he was later elected president. In spite of the radial differences in their personalities and educational backgrounds, Maritain was immediately attracted to this truculent genius of social reform, and the two men recognized their profound intellectual affinities. Whenever they met they spent long hours exploring the democratic dream of people working out their own destiny. Both accepted democracy as the best form of government. As Alinsky tried to share with Maritain his ideas about what it is to be a free citizen in a democratic society, about the right of free association of citizens to undertake action and organize institutions to determine their own destiny, about the necessity of community organizations as mediating structures between the individual and the state, structures that help the government do what it is supposed to do, and as Maritain explained painstakingly to Alinsky his ideas about the distinction between the individual and the person, the primacy of the individual conscience in a religiously and politically pluralist democracy, about the primacy of the common good, about the source of authority residing in the people, who accord that authority to the government that acts in their name, each recognized in the other a truly kindred soul.” (pp xviii-xix)

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Peter in Africa, Reflections

Though there surely will be more, these first reflections by the Holy Father about his just concluded several days visit to Africa, are beautiful.

An excerpt from the Vatican News Service.

“VATICAN CITY, 24 MAR 2009 (VIS) - During his return to Rome, following his apostolic visit to Cameroon and Angola, Benedict XVI again made remarks to journalists accompanying him on the flight.

“The Holy Father said that during the course of his visit he had been particularly impressed by "this almost exuberant cordiality, this delight, of a rejoicing Africa. I felt they saw in the Pope ... the personification of the fact that we are the children and the family of God. This family exists and we, with all our limitations, are part of it, and God is with us. ... I was also moved by the spirit of meditative absorption in liturgy, the powerful sense of the sacred; in the liturgies there was no self-presentation of groups, no self-animation, but the presence of the sacred, of God Himself; even the movements were always movements of respect and awareness of the divine presence".

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Rehabilitation Report Reveals Failure

Traditional methods of rehabilitating criminals, whether youth—as in this study—or adults, does not work.

It will continue to fail until professionals realize that criminal behavior is largely a result of an internal decision in response to the truth of the world—as perceived by the criminal—and without a more potent truth; that of a personal conversion to Catholicism through deep exposure to Catholic social teaching, delivered by a reformed criminal who carries the criminal world respect ensuring penitential listening.

An excerpt from the Los Angeles Times article about another study showing traditional rehabilitation’s failure.

“Most children who enter group probation homes in Los Angeles County remain in lives of crime and drugs years later, according to a new Rand Corp. study.

“The bleak findings indicate a need to revamp the county's juvenile justice programs and increase funding, according to the report published in the April issue of the American Journal of Public Health.

"We cannot say that these group homes failed to improve anyone's life, but the large number of poor outcomes we observed raises questions about whether the juvenile justice system is as effective in rehabilitating delinquent youths as it should be," said Rajeev Ramchand, the study's lead author.

“The think tank's researchers began tracking nearly 450 youths who entered group homes in 1999 and 2000. The final survey, taken in 2007, located 395 of the original participants and found that 66% said they had done something illegal, other than using alcohol or drugs, in the previous year.”

Monday, March 23, 2009

The Center Holds

From this story from England and this one from Notre Dame it can appear on some days that the center of the Catholic faith cannot hold and all is falling down around us, but as long as Peter speaks, the truths are known and praised daily in the worldwide mass by the millions of the faithful, the gates of hell cannot prevail, though it may often seem they are.

Vatican News reports on Peter’s visit to Africa, where the Church is surging.

“VATICAN CITY, 21 MAR 2009 (VIS) - At 4.20 p.m. today, the Holy Father went to Stadio dos Coquieros in the Angolan capital city of Luanda. On arrival he toured the stadium - which has a capacity of 30,000 - by popemobile greeting the crowds of young people he had come to meet.

“Commenting on the theme of the meeting, taken from the Book of Revelation, "Behold the dwelling of God is with men", the Pope assured the young people that "God makes all the difference, ... and more! God changes us; He makes us new!".

"God is the future of a new humanity, which is anticipated in His Church. When you have a chance, take time to read the Church's history. You will find that the Church does not grow old with the passing of the years. Rather, she grows younger, for she is journeying towards her Lord, day by day drawing nearer to the one true fountain overflowing with youthfulness, rebirth, the power of life".

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Ladder of Divine Ascent

Pope Benedict gave a Catechesis on February 11, 2009 at a General Audience in the Paul VI Audience Hall, translated and published in L’Osservatore Romano (subscription required), where he discussed the great spiritual treatise of St. John Climacus, Ladder of Divine Ascent.

An excerpt.

“John comments: “A good foundation of three layers and three pillars is: innocence, fasting and temperance. Let all babes in Christ (cf. 1 Cor 3:1) begin with these virtues, taking as their model the natural babes.” (1, 20; 636)

“Voluntary detachment from beloved people and places permits the soul to enter into deeper communion with God. This renunciation leads to obedience which is the way to humility through humiliation—which will never be absent—on the part of the brethren.

“John Comments: “Blessed is he who has mortified his will to the very end and has entrusted the care of himself to his teacher in the Lord: indeed he will be placed on the right hand of the Crucified One!” (4, 37; 704)

“The second stage of the journey consists in spiritual combat against the passions. Every step of the ladder is linked to a principal passion that is defined and diagnosed, with an indication of the treatment and a proposal of the corresponding virtue.

“All together, these steps of the ladder undoubtedly constitute the most important treatise of spiritual strategy that we possess. The struggle against the passions, however, is steeped in the positive—it does not remain as something negative—thanks to the image of the “fire” of the Holy Spirit: that “all those who enter upon the good fight (cf. 1 Tm 6:12), which is hard and narrow,…may realize that they must leap into the fire, if they really expect the celestial fire to dwell in them.” (I, 18; 636)”

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Pope Benedict in Africa

Simon of Cyrene, who helped Jesus carry his cross to Golgotha, is remembered by the Holy Father.

An excerpt.

“Among this group, the Pope explained "was an African, Simon of Cyrene, ... [who] took part, at the price of his own suffering, in the infinite suffering of the One Who ransomed all men, including His executioners".

"It is hard to accept to carry someone else's cross. Only after the resurrection could he have understood what he had done. Brothers and sisters, it is the same for each of us: in the depths of our anguish, of our own rebellion, Christ offers us His loving presence even if we find it hard to understand that He is at our side. Only the Lord's final victory will reveal for us the definitive meaning of our trials.

"Can it not be said", the Holy Father asked, "that every African is in some sense a member of the family of Simon of Cyrene? Every African who suffers, indeed every person who suffers, helps Christ to carry His Cross and climbs with Him the path to Golgotha in order one day to rise again with Him. ... Since the resurrection, and right up to our own time, there have been countless witnesses who have turned, with faith and hope, towards the Saviour of mankind, recognising His presence at the heart of their suffering. May the Father of mercies graciously grant the prayers of all who turn to Him. He answers our call and our prayer, as and when He wishes, for our good and not according to our desires".

Friday, March 20, 2009

Reentry Evaluations

The first research job I had—in 1974—was with a federally funded research project evaluating community correctional programs, and it was there that I learned the value and necessity of proper third-party, control-group evaluation when dealing with criminal rehabilitation programs.

Unfortunately, it is still not the norm, but when it has been utilized, as with the Greenlight Project and the California In-Prison Substance Abuse Treatment program, the results have been a shock—in both cases showing that program participation actually increased recidivism, rather than the intended result of decreasing it.

Both of these efforts were reported on here.

So this call to mandate evaluation is welcome and we hope it continues.

“Prisoner re-entry programs getting government funding should be required to commission high-quality, independent scientific evaluations, says criminologist James Byrne of the University of Massachusetts, Lowell. Testifying last week before the U.S. House subcommittee that handles Justice Department appropriations, Byrne said the lack of good evaluations of such programs so far means that corrections advocates are unable to cite “best practices” to support their requests for more funds. Byrne testified during three days of hearings held by the panel on prison issues in anticipation of more federal funding available for re-entry in the next fiscal year under the new Second Chance Act.

“Byrne also said that re-entry programs that focus only on individual offenders may not produce significant reductions in recidivism “unless we also address the need to transform the “high risk” communities in which offenders reside. In a story published earlier this week on Connecticut recidivism study, Crime & Justice News reported an incorrect figure on recidivism rates associated with a state prisoner re-entry program. The recidivism of ex-inmates who completed the program within six months was 8 percent, compared with 34 percent for those who started but didn’t finish and 42 percent for nonparticipants.”

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Year for Priests

The Holy Father announces a special year for priests and within the message explains the interiority needed for effective mission work, also so applicable to those working within an apostolate to transform criminals.

An excerpt.

“In his address, the Pontiff emphasized the constant struggle for moral perfection that dwells “in every truly priestly heart.” In support of this tendency toward spiritual perfection, the Holy Father announced that he has “decided to call a special ‘Year for Priests’ which will run from June 19, 2009 to June 19, 2010.”

“He noted that he year also marks the “150th anniversary of the death of the saintly 'Cure of Ars', Jean Marie Vianney, a true example of a pastor at the service of Christ's flock."…

“Speaking to the Congregation for Clergy, the Holy Father also mentioned the ecclesial communal, hierarchical and doctrinal dimensions that are “absolutely indispensable for any authentic [priestly] mission,” and which guarantee “spiritual effectiveness.”

“He explained that the mission is ecclesial “because no-one announces or brings themselves, ... but brings Another, God Himself, to the world. God is the only wealth that, definitively, mankind wishes to find in a priest.”

"The mission is 'communal',” he continued, “because it takes place in a unity and communion which only at a secondary level possess important aspects of social visibility.”

“He added that the “'hierarchical' and 'doctrinal' dimensions emphasize the importance of ecclesiastical discipline (a term related to that of 'disciple') and of doctrinal (not just theological, initial and permanent) formation."

“The Pope also stressed the importance of priestly formation which must maintain “communion with unbroken ecclesial Tradition, without pausing or being tempted by discontinuity. In this context,” he continued, “it is important to encourage priests, especially the young generations, to a correct reading of the texts of Vatican Council II, interpreted in the light of all the Church's doctrinal inheritance."

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Good Question, Answer is Probably Not

“Now that the federal government is pouring more aid into prisoner re-entry efforts under the Second Chance Act, will the inmates take part?”

Reentry programs on the inside will most likely attract those who will probably make it on their own on the outside or are hoping to parlay involvement into an earlier release—a logical decision in a prison environment—but defeating the purpose of reentry programs, which is to reduce recidivism.

The most effective programs, in our opinion, will be those operating on the outside, run by former criminals who have made it, and available to all prisoners being released.

This post from the Crime Report is about the Second Chance Act’s utility, the new government funded program for reentry.

“Now that the federal government is pouring more aid into prisoner re-entry efforts under the Second Chance Act, will the inmates take part? A study of a Connecticut re-entry program found that only 18 percent of convicts completed it successfully. Of inmates eligible for ”transition services,” 38 percent didn’t even appear for their initial session and 16 percent came at least once but later dropped out, said Damon Mitchell of Central Connecticut State University.

“Mitchell reported his results at the annual meeting of the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences, which concluded Saturday in Boston. Recidivism rates were slightly lower for those who finished the program–34% compared with 42% of nonparticipants–but the difference was not statistically significant, Mitchell said.

“Why did the departing inmates not make use of the services they were offered? Mitchell hypothesized that they overestimated their chances of getting jobs after release. That seemed to coincide with another re-entry study presented by Stephen Haas of the West Virginia Statistical Analysis Center. Haas found that more than 80 percent of surveyed inmates believed they were “prepared to get a job upon release,” which Haas believes is too optimistic in many cases. At least in West Virginia, prison staff members are not doing enough to help prisoners prepare for re-entry, Haas said. He concluded that ”the quality of interpersonal relationships between staff and inmates was poor” and that many inmates said staff “did not view their problems realistically.”

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

City of God

The City of God by St. Augustine, is one of the most influential and well known of all books in Catholicism and this column reminds us that it is one that must be read straight through, at least once in life, by all Catholics.

Along with the Summa Theologia by St. Thomas Aquinas, much of the Catholic magisterium is embedded here, and as one who has been reading the City of God in parts, I realized that now is the time to begin the project, promising to be awe-inspiring.

An excerpt.

“Recently, I have been reading with an undergraduate class St. Augustine’s City of God. Augustine took about thirteen years to write it; it took us nineteen class days, reading fifty-seven pages at a clip, to read it. Anyone claiming to have read all the works of Augustine, a famous quip goes, “is a liar.” The same might be said of anyone, including Schall and his students, who says that he understands every aspect of the City of God. In English, the book is 1091 pages in the Penguin edition. Still, it requires very careful attention.

“At the semester’s beginning, I told a class of about seventy students that, at least once in our lives (it is not enough, I know), we should read this remarkable book that bears the Christian title De Civitate Dei and is comparable to Plato’s Republic. The students were to look on reading it as an adventure, as great as any that they will ever undertake. But it is also a task. I asked them if they were willing to try it. I did not want to read only “parts,” the bane of academic life. Under Schall’s cold gaze, they agreed, I think, not reluctantly. With some awe, they mostly enjoyed it. Its reading is one of life’s soul-moving experiences, like reading Aristotle’s Metaphysics, or The Brothers Karamazov, or the Epistle to the Romans.

“Throughout, Augustine keeps explaining to the reader the order of the book. He knows it is a difficult read, and its parts need constant repetition. At the end of Book 10, Augustine explains: “The first five books (of twenty-two) have been written against those who imagine that the gods are to be worshipped for the sake of the good things of this life, the latter five against those who think that the cult of the (Roman) gods should be kept with a view to the future life after death.”

“When Augustine finishes with these dubious theses about the pagan gods, not much is left of them. The next twelve books, in blocks of four books each, are devoted to three topics concerning the two cities, the City of God and the City of Man: “I shall treat of their origin, their development, and their destined ends.”

Monday, March 16, 2009

Patroness of Social Workers

Yesterday was the feast day of St. Louise de Marillac, who was declared patroness of social workers in 1960, and her story is a wonderful one, informed by the same principle Lampstand recognizes, the power of like to like.

An excerpt from Saint of the Day.

“St. Louise de Marillac (d. 1660)

“Louise, born near Meux, France, lost her mother when she was still a child, her beloved father when she was but 15. Her desire to become a nun was discouraged by her confessor, and a marriage was arranged. One son was born of this union. But she soon found herself nursing her beloved husband through a long illness that finally led to his death.

“Louise was fortunate to have a wise and sympathetic counselor, St. Francis de Sales, and then his friend, the Bishop of Belley, France. Both of these men were available to her only periodically. But from an interior illumination she understood that she was to undertake a great work under the guidance of another person she had not yet met. This was the holy priest M. Vincent, later to be known as St. Vincent de Paul.

“At first he was reluctant to be her confessor, busy as he was with
his "Confraternities of Charity." Members were aristocratic ladies of charity who were helping him nurse the poor and look after neglected children, a real need of the day. But the ladies were busy with many of their own concerns and duties. His work needed many more helpers, especially ones who were peasants themselves and therefore close to the poor and could win their hearts. He also needed someone who could teach them and organize them.

“Only over a long period of time, as Vincent de Paul became more acquainted with Louise, did he come to realize that she was the answer to his prayers. She was intelligent, self-effacing and had physical strength and endurance that belied her continuing feeble health. The missions he sent her on eventually led to four simple young women joining her. Her rented home in Paris became the training center for those accepted for the service of the sick and poor. Growth was rapid and soon there was need of a so-called rule of life, which Louise herself, under the guidance of Vincent, drew up for the Sisters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul (though he preferred "Daughters" of Charity)…

“Louise de Marillac was canonized in 1934 and declared patroness of social workers in 1960.

“Comment: In Louise’s day, serving the needs of the poor was usually a luxury only fine ladies could afford. Her mentor, St. Vincent de Paul, wisely realized that women of peasant stock could reach poor people more effectively, and the Sisters of Charity were born under her leadership. Today that Order continues to nurse the sick and aging and provide refuge for orphans. Many of its members are social workers toiling under Louise’s patronage. The rest of us must share her concern for the disadvantaged.”

Sunday, March 15, 2009


One of my favorite books is The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis, and in this wonderful column from The Catholic Thing, his characteristic strategy is remembered through the actions of our new president.

An excerpt.

“In 1942, C. S. Lewis published The Screwtape Letters, advice from a senior “tempter” to a novice about how to confuse us poor mortals, which may be summed up in a single sentence: “Your job is to fuddle them, not to encourage them to think.”

“In 1959, Screwtape appears again, in an essay titled, “Screwtape Proposes a Toast,” in which the senior tempter reflects on the state of the world and on what can be done to make it even worse. Those who listened to President Obama’s Oval Office address on March 9 lifting President Bush’s restrictions on stem cell research may be pardoned for thinking the old tempter has returned.

“Under Bush, restrictions were placed on federal funding of research using stem cells derived from human embryos after August 10, 2001, the date on which he imposed the ban. But that was all – it was a ban on federal funding of research using those lines. It was not a ban on that research as such, which could still be conducted in any state (e.g., California) which did not ban it, and which could be conducted with state government or private funds. Nor was it a ban on research using pre-August 10 lines (though many of us felt it should have been), or on scientific research using other sources, such as adult stem cells, which pose no ethical concerns.

“Far from inhibiting research, as Obama suggested, these restrictions, in the judgment of many observers, spurred scientists to seek ethical alternatives, resulting, a year and a half ago, in spectacular success when different teams of researchers, working independently, found ways to re-engineer adult cells to the embryonic state (these are called “induced pluripotent stem cells”). In other words, scientists can get embryonic stem cells now without destroying embryos. Thus, you would think, there was no need, from any perspective, to force taxpayers to subsidize a practice many find morally repugnant.”

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Pope Benedict’s Letter, Analysis

The letter the Pope sent to the bishops March 10th (posted here yesterday as well as throughout the Catholic world) was of major significance, as he responds to the turmoil arising from the bishop who is a holocaust denier; but more pointedly, reminds Catholics that we are a contradiction in the world, a leaven, and when we attack each other from positions of falsity and merely an eagerness to attack, we are attacking the only repository of full truth in the world, and rendering the ability of Holy Mother Church to protect her flock, of less vigor.

This post from First Things is an excellent analysis of the Pope’s letter.

An excerpt.

“A March 10 letter to Catholic bishops from Benedict XVI explains why he decided to seek reconciliation with the schismatic Society of St. Pius X. The Vatican lifted the excommunication of four bishops illicitly ordained by Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre in 1988. The letter reveals the pain the pope felt at the controversy unleashed when it was quickly learned, one of the men (for most of his life among the Lefebvrists, it seems) was (among other cretinous opinions) a denier of the Holocaust.

“Benedict’s pain shows throughout the entire letter, but especially here: “It has saddened me that even Catholics, who should in fact know better, have seen fit to strike at me with a ready-to-pounce hostility.” Nevertheless, Benedict finds comfort among his “Jewish friends who have quickly helped to clear away misunderstandings and restore the atmosphere of friendship and trust that had prevailed during the pontificate of John Paul II and, God be thanked, continues to prevail in mine.”

“The real pain, though, is the fact of schism, and not so much Benedict’s own hurt feelings, which come out only in that one sentence. But like St. Paul’s epistle to the Galatians (which the pope quotes at the end of his own missive), this letter bleeds. Divisions in the Church hurt this pope, as they did Paul in his day. No surprise, then, that Benedict would conclude this personal account of his Petrine ministry to his fellow bishops with these verses from Galatians:

'You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another in love. For the whole law is summed up in a single command: ‘Love one another as yourself.’ But if you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will end up being devoured by each other'".

“It was to avoid just this dismal scenario that Benedict decided to lift the excommunications, as he explains. What especially bears emphasizing is this passage from his letter:

“'To say it once again: As long as the doctrinal issues are not resolved, the Fraternity [of Pius X] has no canonical status in the Church; and its ministers, even if they are free from ecclesiastical censure, do not exercise any legitimate ministry in the Church. . . . [It is] clear that the problems now under discussion are essentially doctrinal in nature, especially those concerning the acceptance of the Second Vatican Council and the post-conciliar Magisterium of the popes. . . . One cannot freeze the magisterial authority of the Church at the year1962-this must be made quite clear to the Fraternity.'"

“But the Lefebvrists are hardly the only faction in the Roman Church “biting and devouring” the Body of Christ. Benedict also directs these pointed words at those “ready-to-pounce” Catholics who style themselves professional defenders of Vatican II: “But to some of those who pose as great defenders of the Council, one must keep in mind that Vatican II contains within itself the whole doctrinal history of the Church. Whoever claims obedience to the Council must accept as well the faith of centuries and not cut down the roots that are the very source of life for the tree.”

“Throughout the letter, the pope subjects himself to a searching examination of conscience: he admits numerous mishaps on his and the Vatican’s part; he implicitly criticizes the dicastery in charge of negotiating with the Fraternity by placing all future dealings with the schismatics in the hands of the Congregation for the Defense of the Faith (since now, the pope says, all remaining issues are doctrinal, not liturgical); and he even wonders aloud if his pastoral solicitude is not drawing attention away from making the Christian faith more credible in an unbelieving world.

“I sincerely hope that Benedict’s frank examination will lead to a similar searching on the part of all Catholics, very much including those who began the schism in the first place by letting themselves be ordained illicitly. But their numbers would never have grown to such an extent were it not for the woes that came in the wake of the Vatican II Council, caused not, I insist, by the Council itself but by its interpretation.”

Friday, March 13, 2009

Pope Benedict’s Letter to the Bishops


Dear Brothers in the Episcopal Ministry!

The remission of the excommunication of the four Bishops consecrated in 1988 by Archbishop Lefebvre without a mandate of the Holy See has for many reasons caused, both within and beyond the Catholic Church, a discussion more heated than any we have seen for a long time. Many Bishops felt perplexed by an event which came about unexpectedly and was difficult to view positively in the light of the issues and tasks facing the Church today. Even though many Bishops and members of the faithful were disposed in principle to take a positive view of the Pope’s concern for reconciliation, the question remained whether such a gesture was fitting in view of the genuinely urgent demands of the life of faith in our time. Some groups, on the other hand, openly accused the Pope of wanting to turn back the clock to before the Council: as a result, an avalanche of protests was unleashed, whose bitterness laid bare wounds deeper than those of the present moment. I therefore feel obliged to offer you, dear Brothers, a word of clarification, which ought to help you understand the concerns which led me and the competent offices of the Holy See to take this step. In this way I hope to contribute to peace in the Church.

An unforeseen mishap for me was the fact that the Williamson case came on top of the remission of the excommunication. The discreet gesture of mercy towards four Bishops ordained validly but not legitimately suddenly appeared as something completely different: as the repudiation of reconciliation between Christians and Jews, and thus as the reversal of what the Council had laid down in this regard to guide the Church’s path. A gesture of reconciliation with an ecclesial group engaged in a process of separation thus turned into its very antithesis: an apparent step backwards with regard to all the steps of reconciliation between Christians and Jews taken since the Council – steps which my own work as a theologian had sought from the beginning to take part in and support. That this overlapping of two opposed processes took place and momentarily upset peace between Christians and Jews, as well as peace within the Church, is something which I can only deeply deplore. I have been told that consulting the information available on the internet would have made it possible to perceive the problem early on. I have learned the lesson that in the future in the Holy See we will have to pay greater attention to that source of news. I was saddened by the fact that even Catholics who, after all, might have had a better knowledge of the situation, thought they had to attack me with open hostility. Precisely for this reason I thank all the more our Jewish friends, who quickly helped to clear up the misunderstanding and to restore the atmosphere of friendship and trust which – as in the days of Pope John Paul II – has also existed throughout my pontificate and, thank God, continues to exist.

Another mistake, which I deeply regret, is the fact that the extent and limits of the provision of 21 January 2009 were not clearly and adequately explained at the moment of its publication. The excommunication affects individuals, not institutions. An episcopal ordination lacking a pontifical mandate raises the danger of a schism, since it jeopardizes the unity of the College of Bishops with the Pope. Consequently the Church must react by employing her most severe punishment – excommunication – with the aim of calling those thus punished to repent and to return to unity. Twenty years after the ordinations, this goal has sadly not yet been attained. The remission of the excommunication has the same aim as that of the punishment: namely, to invite the four Bishops once more to return. This gesture was possible once the interested parties had expressed their recognition in principle of the Pope and his authority as Pastor, albeit with some reservations in the area of obedience to his doctrinal authority and to the authority of the Council. Here I return to the distinction between individuals and institutions. The remission of the excommunication was a measure taken in the field of ecclesiastical discipline: the individuals were freed from the burden of conscience constituted by the most serious of ecclesiastical penalties. This disciplinary level needs to be distinguished from the doctrinal level. The fact that the Society of Saint Pius X does not possess a canonical status in the Church is not, in the end, based on disciplinary but on doctrinal reasons. As long as the Society does not have a canonical status in the Church, its ministers do not exercise legitimate ministries in the Church. There needs to be a distinction, then, between the disciplinary level, which deals with individuals as such, and the doctrinal level, at which ministry and institution are involved. In order to make this clear once again: until the doctrinal questions are clarified, the Society has no canonical status in the Church, and its ministers – even though they have been freed of the ecclesiastical penalty – do not legitimately exercise any ministry in the Church.

In light of this situation, it is my intention henceforth to join the Pontifical Commission "Ecclesia Dei" – the body which has been competent since 1988 for those communities and persons who, coming from the Society of Saint Pius X or from similar groups, wish to return to full communion with the Pope – to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. This will make it clear that the problems now to be addressed are essentially doctrinal in nature and concern primarily the acceptance of the Second Vatican Council and the post-conciliar magisterium of the Popes. The collegial bodies with which the Congregation studies questions which arise (especially the ordinary Wednesday meeting of Cardinals and the annual or biennial Plenary Session) ensure the involvement of the Prefects of the different Roman Congregations and representatives from the world’s Bishops in the process of decision-making. The Church’s teaching authority cannot be frozen in the year 1962 – this must be quite clear to the Society. But some of those who put themselves forward as great defenders of the Council also need to be reminded that Vatican II embraces the entire doctrinal history of the Church. Anyone who wishes to be obedient to the Council has to accept the faith professed over the centuries, and cannot sever the roots from which the tree draws its life.

I hope, dear Brothers, that this serves to clarify the positive significance and also the limits of the provision of 21 January 2009. But the question still remains: Was this measure needed? Was it really a priority? Aren’t other things perhaps more important? Of course there are more important and urgent matters. I believe that I set forth clearly the priorities of my pontificate in the addresses which I gave at its beginning. Everything that I said then continues unchanged as my plan of action. The first priority for the Successor of Peter was laid down by the Lord in the Upper Room in the clearest of terms: "You… strengthen your brothers" (Lk 22:32). Peter himself formulated this priority anew in his first Letter: "Always be prepared to make a defence to anyone who calls you to account for the hope that is in you" (1 Pet 3:15). In our days, when in vast areas of the world the faith is in danger of dying out like a flame which no longer has fuel, the overriding priority is to make God present in this world and to show men and women the way to God. Not just any god, but the God who spoke on Sinai; to that God whose face we recognize in a love which presses "to the end" (cf. Jn 13:1) – in Jesus Christ, crucified and risen. The real problem at this moment of our history is that God is disappearing from the human horizon, and, with the dimming of the light which comes from God, humanity is losing its bearings, with increasingly evident destructive effects.

Leading men and women to God, to the God who speaks in the Bible: this is the supreme and fundamental priority of the Church and of the Successor of Peter at the present time. A logical consequence of this is that we must have at heart the unity of all believers. Their disunity, their disagreement among themselves, calls into question the credibility of their talk of God. Hence the effort to promote a common witness by Christians to their faith – ecumenism – is part of the supreme priority. Added to this is the need for all those who believe in God to join in seeking peace, to attempt to draw closer to one another, and to journey together, even with their differing images of God, towards the source of Light – this is interreligious dialogue. Whoever proclaims that God is Love "to the end" has to bear witness to love: in loving devotion to the suffering, in the rejection of hatred and enmity – this is the social dimension of the Christian faith, of which I spoke in the Encyclical Deus Caritas Est.

So if the arduous task of working for faith, hope and love in the world is presently (and, in various ways, always) the Church’s real priority, then part of this is also made up of acts of reconciliation, small and not so small. That the quiet gesture of extending a hand gave rise to a huge uproar, and thus became exactly the opposite of a gesture of reconciliation, is a fact which we must accept. But I ask now: Was it, and is it, truly wrong in this case to meet half-way the brother who "has something against you" (cf. Mt 5:23ff.) and to seek reconciliation? Should not civil society also try to forestall forms of extremism and to incorporate their eventual adherents – to the extent possible – in the great currents shaping social life, and thus avoid their being segregated, with all its consequences? Can it be completely mistaken to work to break down obstinacy and narrowness, and to make space for what is positive and retrievable for the whole? I myself saw, in the years after 1988, how the return of communities which had been separated from Rome changed their interior attitudes; I saw how returning to the bigger and broader Church enabled them to move beyond one-sided positions and broke down rigidity so that positive energies could emerge for the whole. Can we be totally indifferent about a community which has 491 priests, 215 seminarians, 6 seminaries, 88 schools, 2 university-level institutes, 117 religious brothers, 164 religious sisters and thousands of lay faithful? Should we casually let them drift farther from the Church? I think for example of the 491 priests. We cannot know how mixed their motives may be. All the same, I do not think that they would have chosen the priesthood if, alongside various distorted and unhealthy elements, they did not have a love for Christ and a desire to proclaim him and, with him, the living God. Can we simply exclude them, as representatives of a radical fringe, from our pursuit of reconciliation and unity? What would then become of them?

Certainly, for some time now, and once again on this specific occasion, we have heard from some representatives of that community many unpleasant things – arrogance and presumptuousness, an obsession with one-sided positions, etc. Yet to tell the truth, I must add that I have also received a number of touching testimonials of gratitude which clearly showed an openness of heart. But should not the great Church also allow herself to be generous in the knowledge of her great breadth, in the knowledge of the promise made to her? Should not we, as good educators, also be capable of overlooking various faults and making every effort to open up broader vistas? And should we not admit that some unpleasant things have also emerged in Church circles? At times one gets the impression that our society needs to have at least one group to which no tolerance may be shown; which one can easily attack and hate. And should someone dare to approach them – in this case the Pope – he too loses any right to tolerance; he too can be treated hatefully, without misgiving or restraint.

Dear Brothers, during the days when I first had the idea of writing this letter, by chance, during a visit to the Roman Seminary, I had to interpret and comment on Galatians 5:13-15. I was surprised at the directness with which that passage speaks to us about the present moment: "Do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love be servants of one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself’. But if you bite and devour one another, take heed that you are not consumed by one another." I am always tempted to see these words as another of the rhetorical excesses which we occasionally find in Saint Paul. To some extent that may also be the case. But sad to say, this "biting and devouring" also exists in the Church today, as expression of a poorly understood freedom. Should we be surprised that we too are no better than the Galatians? That at the very least we are threatened by the same temptations? That we must always learn anew the proper use of freedom? And that we must always learn anew the supreme priority, which is love? The day I spoke about this at the Major Seminary, the feast of Our Lady of Trust was being celebrated in Rome. And so it is: Mary teaches us trust. She leads us to her Son, in whom all of us can put our trust. He will be our guide – even in turbulent times. And so I would like to offer heartfelt thanks to all the many Bishops who have lately offered me touching tokens of trust and affection, and above all assured me of their prayers. My thanks also go to all the faithful who in these days have given me testimony of their constant fidelity to the Successor of Saint Peter. May the Lord protect all of us and guide our steps along the way of peace. This is the prayer that rises up instinctively from my heart at the beginning of this Lent, a liturgical season particularly suited to interior purification, one which invites all of us to look with renewed hope to the light which awaits us at Easter.

With a special Apostolic Blessing, I remain

Yours in the Lord,

From the Vatican, 10 March 2009

Thursday, March 12, 2009

How GM Failed

This recent speech, reported in the Hillsdale Imprimis, is a great explanation of how GM failed, and how unions, vital when acting responsibly and so important to Catholic social teaching in protecting the rights of workers, can destroy industrial innovation.

An excerpt.

“I'd like to start by congratulating all of you. You are all now in the auto business, the Sport of Kings-or in our case, presidents and members of Congress. Without your support—and I assume that most of you are fortunate enough to pay taxes—General Motors and Chrysler would very likely be getting measured by the undertakers of the bankruptcy courts. But make no mistake. What has happened to GM is essentially bankruptcy by other means, and that is an extraordinary event in the political and economic history of our country.

“GM is an institution that survived in its early years the kind of management turbulence we've come to associate with particularly chaotic Internet startups. But with Alfred P. Sloan in charge, GM settled down to become the very model of the modern corporation. It navigated through the Great Depression, and negotiated the transition from producing tanks and other military materiel during World War II to peacetime production of cars and trucks. It was global before global was cool, as its current chairman used to say. By the mid-1950s the company was the symbol of American industrial power—the largest industrial corporation in the world. It owned more than half the U.S. market. It set the trends in styling and technology, and even when it did not it was such a fast and effective follower that it could fairly easily hold its competitors in their places. And it held the distinction as the world's largest automaker until just a year or so ago.

“How does a juggernaut like this become the basket case that we see before us today? I will oversimplify matters and touch on five factors that contributed to the current crisis—a crisis that has been more than 30 years in the making.

“First, Detroit underestimated the competition—in more ways than one.

“Second, GM mismanaged its relationship with the United Auto Workers, and the UAW in its turn did nothing to encourage GM (or Ford or Chrysler) to defuse the demographic time bomb that has now blown up their collective future.

“Third, GM, Ford, and Chrysler handled failure better than success. When they made money, they tended to squander it on ill-conceived diversification schemes. It was when they were in trouble that they often did their most innovative work—the first minivans at Chrysler, the first Ford Taurus, and more recently the Chevy Volt were ideas born out of crisis.

“Fourth, GM (and Ford and Chrysler) relied too heavily on a few, gas-hungry truck and SUV lines for all their profits-plus the money they needed to cover losses on many of their car lines. They did this for a good reason: When gas was cheap, big gas-guzzling trucks were exactly what their customers wanted—until they were not.

“Fifth, GM refused to accept that to survive it could not remain what it was in the 1950s and 1960s—with multiple brands and a dominant market share. Instead, it used short-term strategies such as zero percent financing to avoid reckoning with the consequences of globalization and its own mistakes.”

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Soul of the Apostolate

At the blogsite—Historical Christian—there is a post on a marvelous book, The Soul of the Apostolate, a manual for those involved in an apostolate, which reveals the importance of developing a deep interiority and closeness to Christ and the Church to be successful in apostolate work.

In our work at Lampstand we refer to this pathway as developing deep knowledge—the accumulation of experiential knowledge, graduate academic learning, training in the social teaching of the Church and managing a community organization: congruent with the mission of the apostolate; strengthened with daily practice of Mass, praying the Rosary, morning and evening devotions—and through this process, the possibility of receiving grace to effectively work through your apostolate, that which you are called to do, will be deeply enhanced.

It is really the mandate to develop a priestly soul, to enter the way of perfection, to reject the judgment of the world, and seek only that of eternity.

An excerpt.

“We have too many decent priests. I am tired of decent priests. Decent priests have done me little good.* Sound shocking? Then read this, from the classic little book The Soul of the Apostolate, which I’m currently reading:

“If the priest is a saint (the saying goes), the people will be fervent; if the priest is fervent, the people will be pious; if the priest is pious, the people will at least be decent. But if the priest is only decent, the people will be godless. The spiritual generation is always one degree less intense in its life than those who beget it in Christ.”

“If the priest is only decent, the people will be godless. And we have many godless people - not just in the world today, but in the pews. Catholics who use contraception freely, and see nothing wrong with it. Catholics who immerse themselves in the world, are indistinguishable from the world, and aren’t even aware there’s a problem with it. Catholics who live together before marriage, and see nothing wrong with it – 80% in my archdiocese, and my archdiocese is one of the better ones. Catholics who never, or rarely, go to confession. Catholics who receive the Eucharist unfeelingly, in a state of sin, and so are unchanged by it.

“Priest, if you are merely nice, and teach others to be merely nice, you have failed in your calling as a priest – and failed in your calling to form your people in the image of Christ; more, to form Christ in your people. We are eating God; meant to live on God; we need to be taught how to do so, and become His dwelling place on earth, here and now. We human beings are the meeting place between heaven and earth, between God and creation, and we need to be taught how to open ourselves up and let God in, for real, right now, through Christ. But if you are not pursuing Him yourself, seriously, every moment of the day, you cannot teach us how.”

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Genesis & Evolution

The Catholic Church has understood for some time that evolution and creation are congruent, but it is the rare article that expresses it so well, as this one does.

An excerpt.

“When speaking about origins, the challenge for Christians in our time is that of living a dual citizenship: an intelligent fidelity to the teaching of Genesis 1, and an attentive openness to the proposals of scientific research. [...] Today, in any case, they must refine this twofold loyalty, at a time in which some enjoy pitting the notions of creation and evolution against each other, under the form of ideologies – creationism and evolutionism – that are mutually exclusive.

“For the supporters of evolutionism, referring to the opening poem of Genesis means regressing into a form of obscurantism that is incompatible with the rationality of the modern age. In this essay, we will seek to demonstrate that referring to the first chapters of Genesis does not at all imply a surrender of the intelligence. [...] A brilliant rationality permeates these texts, which are capable of speaking to every reasonable man, and in particular to the contemporary man of science. [...]

“Genesis 1 could be subtitled "Process and Reality": the act of creation is divided into successive moments, in the sequence of a week. [...] Far from being an explosion of blind power, creation – according to the narrative poem of Genesis 1 – is an action that takes place progressively, in an ordered sequence that reveals a plan.

“The progression – as Paul Beauchamp has demonstrated in his essay "Création et séparation" is above all that of successive separations, expressed at first with the verbal root "badal": "And God separated the light from the darkness" (1:4; cf. 1:6, 7, 14, 18). Beginning with the third day, once the macroelements of the cosmos have been put in place, the verb of separation does not appear anymore (except in 1:14, 18, regarding the "great lights"). It is replaced with another expression: "according to its kind." This formula, which is repeated ten times, is applied first to the plant species (1:11-12), and then to the animal species (1:21, 24-25). From the beginning, God drives away formlessness and indeterminateness, gradually constituting a differentiated world.

“In their sequence, the days of creation amplify the succession already connected to speech. From the first day the divine acts, as immediate as they are, are manifested in a discursive manner. [...] Succession is without a doubt a law of language, and of narrative discourse in particular, which can only say things one after another. In a reflection of theological "realism," the account of Genesis 1 takes care to refer this succession back to the divine freedom itself. [...]

“Following the divine initiatives step by step, the narrator takes pains to accentuate what is fixed and finalized about the divine plan. The act of creation, in its sequence, is not a random process or an extravagant dispersion of energy. The divine act – the narrator asserts – unfolds between "beginning" (1:1) and "completion" (see the verb "finished" in 2:1), and in a series ("first day," "second day," etc.) which appears gradually in its completeness, that of six days plus one. “Finally, at the end of the account we discover that God brings to fulfillment precisely that which he had begun to create at the beginning, "the heavens and the earth" (2:1; cf. 1:1). In other words, the process is part of an intelligent plan, which governs each of its phases.”

Monday, March 9, 2009

Religions in the United States

In this article from USA Today, it notes that:

“The percentage. of people who call themselves in some way Christian has dropped more than 11% in a generation. The faithful have scattered out of their traditional bases: The Bible Belt is less Baptist. The Rust Belt is less Catholic. And everywhere, more people are exploring spiritual frontiers — or falling off the faith map completely.”

However, as most of the various forms of groups commonly referred to as Christian by the media really aren’t by the definition the one Christian Church—Catholicism, which increased in the United States & the world—applies to them, according to the teaching clarified by Pope Benedict XVI in 2007.

An excerpt.

“Second Question: What is the meaning of the affirmation that the Church of Christ subsists in the Catholic Church?

“Response: Christ "established here on earth" only one Church and instituted it as a "visible and spiritual community"[5], that from its beginning and throughout the centuries has always existed and will always exist, and in which alone are found all the elements that Christ himself instituted.[6] "This one Church of Christ, which we confess in the Creed as one, holy, catholic and apostolic […]. This Church, constituted and organised in this world as a society, subsists in the Catholic Church, governed by the successor of Peter and the Bishops in communion with him"[7].

“In number 8 of the Dogmatic Constitution Lumen gentium ‘subsistence’ means this perduring, historical continuity and the permanence of all the elements instituted by Christ in the Catholic Church[8], in which the Church of Christ is concretely found on this earth.

“It is possible, according to Catholic doctrine, to affirm correctly that the Church of Christ is present and operative in the churches and ecclesial Communities not yet fully in communion with the Catholic Church, on account of the elements of sanctification and truth that are present in them.[9] Nevertheless, the word "subsists" can only be attributed to the Catholic Church alone precisely because it refers to the mark of unity that we profess in the symbols of the faith (I believe... in the "one" Church); and this "one" Church subsists in the Catholic Church.[10]

“Third Question: Why was the expression "subsists in" adopted instead of the simple word "is"?

“Response: The use of this expression, which indicates the full identity of the Church of Christ with the Catholic Church, does not change the doctrine on the Church. Rather, it comes from and brings out more clearly the fact that there are "numerous elements of sanctification and of truth" which are found outside her structure, but which "as gifts properly belonging to the Church of Christ, impel towards Catholic Unity"[11].

"It follows that these separated churches and Communities, [Orthodox] though we believe they suffer from defects, are deprived neither of significance nor importance in the mystery of salvation. In fact the Spirit of Christ has not refrained from using them as instruments of salvation, whose value derives from that fullness of grace and of truth which has been entrusted to the Catholic Church"[12].

“Fourth Question: Why does the Second Vatican Council use the term "Church" in reference to the oriental Churches separated from full communion with the Catholic Church?

“Response: The Council wanted to adopt the traditional use of the term. "Because these Churches, although separated, have true sacraments and above all – because of the apostolic succession – the priesthood and the Eucharist, by means of which they remain linked to us by very close bonds"[13], they merit the title of "particular or local Churches"[14], and are called sister Churches of the particular Catholic Churches[15].

"It is through the celebration of the Eucharist of the Lord in each of these Churches that the Church of God is built up and grows in stature"[16]. However, since communion with the Catholic Church, the visible head of which is the Bishop of Rome and the Successor of Peter, is not some external complement to a particular Church but rather one of its internal constitutive principles, these venerable Christian communities lack something in their condition as particular churches[17].

“On the other hand, because of the division between Christians, the fullness of universality, which is proper to the Church governed by the Successor of Peter and the Bishops in communion with him, is not fully realised in history [18].

“Fifth Question: Why do the texts of the Council and those of the Magisterium since the Council not use the title of "Church" with regard to those Christian Communities born out of the Reformation of the sixteenth century?

“Response: According to Catholic doctrine, these Communities do not enjoy apostolic succession in the sacrament of Orders, and are, therefore, deprived of a constitutive element of the Church. These ecclesial Communities which, specifically because of the absence of the sacramental priesthood, have not preserved the genuine and integral substance of the Eucharistic Mystery[19] cannot, according to Catholic doctrine, be called "Churches" in the proper sense[20].”

Sunday, March 8, 2009

A Just Wage

In this period of economic turmoil, we should remember that it is clear from Catholic teaching that workers need to be paid a just wage, and while the specific wage is something that can be determined by the unions representing the workers and the management of the companies employing the workers, it must be just, as the Catechism teaches:

2434 A just wage is the legitimate fruit of work. To refuse or withhold it can be a grave injustice. In determining fair pay both the needs and the contributions of each person must be taken into account. "Remuneration for work should guarantee man the opportunity to provide a dignified livelihood for himself and his family on the material, social, cultural and spiritual level, taking into account the role and the productivity of each, the state of the business, and the common good." Agreement between the parties is not sufficient to justify morally the amount to be received in wages.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Absolute Evil

This is the Meditation of the Day, Tuesday, February 17, 2009 from the Magnificat Magazine, (requires a subscription) Volume 10, #13 February 2009 (pp. 254-255)

“What Jesus wants Us to Understand”

“And so evil, I mean absolute evil which specifically constitutes sin, is the rejection or the break of the nuptial bond that God wants to establish with us and through us, with the whole universe. Evil makes man live outside himself, outside God, and outside everything. It quenches the Spirit (see 1 Thes 5:19). It turns us into things in a world of things, of which we bear the weight in and outside ourselves. Since our freedom is not actualized in self-liberation, it prevents God from appearing to us as absolute freedom. The meaning of creation escapes us, since we are incapable of expressing toward any part of reality the Love that we refuse to accept in ourselves. Our vision of the world becomes fragmented. Our origin is lost in the primeval mists of the first syntheses of amino acids, since we give up the chance of becoming our own origin, today, in the light of a new birth tied to our consent; on the other hand, our end is shrouded in the mystery of death, since we fail to equate it with the Presence within ourselves, the only Way to ourselves. Caught between these two uncertainties, our values collapse. We no longer know on what to found our inviolability and our dignity, our freedom and our responsibility. We cannot distinguish clearly good from evil, for lack of a firm reference to an absolute which asserts its presence—and intermittently at that—only through subjective passions that monopolize and distort it. If such is the havoc wrought by sin when its rule is consolidated, the fact remains that, from the beginning—as in a marriage breakdown—sin is essentially a rejection of love, and only love can dry up the source of evil and undo the harm done.” (Father Maurice Zundel (died 1975) was a Swiss mystic, poet, philosopher, liturgist, and author.)

Friday, March 6, 2009

Coerced Philanthropy

The whole point of American philanthropy and a large part of the reason that America is the beacon of light to the world that she is, is the relative freedom of the nonprofit world and its donors to pursue those causes they passionately believe in, only restricted by the understandable tax oversight ensuring the public's awarding of a tax exemption is met with some amount of management expertise.

This new trend, reported by the Wall Street Journal, to essentially remove that level of freedom, especially from donors, is worrisome, and contradicts the sound traditional ideals American philanthropy is built upon.

An excerpt.

“Nonprofit leaders are reeling from the recent news that President Barack Obama's proposed budget would limit tax deductions on charitable contributions from wealthy Americans. But now the philanthropic world has something else to worry about. Today the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy (NCRP), a research and advocacy group, will release a report offering "benchmarks to assess foundation performance." Its real aim is to push philanthropic organizations into ignoring donor intent and instead giving grants based on political considerations.

“The committee is part of a rising tide of politicians and activists who are working to change the face of American philanthropy -- and not for the better.

“The report, titled "Criteria for Philanthropy at its Best," advises foundations to "provide at least 50 percent of grant dollars to benefit lower-income communities, communities of color, and other marginalized groups, broadly defined." The committee looked at 809 of the largest foundations in the country, whose combined three-year grants totaled almost $15 billion, and concluded that the majority of foundations are "eschewing the needs of the most vulnerable in our society" by neglecting "marginalized groups."

“Two years ago, an advocacy group in San Francisco called Greenlining began releasing similar reports. Greenlining's aim then was to pass legislation in California mandating that foundations report to the public the percentage of their dollars given to "minority-led" organizations and the percentage of their boards and staffs made up by racial and ethnic minorities. The legislation was dropped when several foundations promised to donate money to causes Greenlining favored.

“Now Greenlining has put out reports in Florida, Pennsylvania and New York trying to shame foundations into distributing grants differently, as well as pressure them into recruiting more "diverse" board and staff members. The NCRP report picks up on this theme to suggest that foundation boards and staffs should include people with a "diversity of perspectives."

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Prison Spending

What this new study, reported by the New York Times, indicates is how deeply the problem of recidivism is, that fully one out of 31 Americans are under criminal justice sanctions and there seems no solution in sight.

Until rehabilitative practitioners realize that becoming and remaining a criminal is largely an internal personal decision, and choosing to leave the criminal world requires evidence of crystal clarity that making that internal personal decision is not only the right one, but one that promises much greater rewards than those offered by a successful criminal career; the solution will remain obscure.

Becoming Catholic—orthodox and sacramental through daily practice—is the only decision that delivers on that promise for penitential criminals.

An excerpt.

“One in every 31 adults, or 7.3 million Americans, is in prison, on parole or probation, at a cost to the states of $47 billion in 2008, according to a new study.

“Criminal correction spending is outpacing budget growth in education, transportation and public assistance, based on state and federal data. Only Medicaid spending grew faster than state corrections spending, which quadrupled in the past two decades, according to the report today by the Pew Center on the States, the first breakdown of spending in confinement and supervision in the past seven years.

“The increases in the number of people in some form of correctional control occurred even as crime rates sharply declined, by about 25 percent in the past two decades.
At a time when states are facing huge budget shortfalls, prisons, which hold 1.5 million adults, are driving the spending increases.”

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Catholic Church Grows in 2008

2008 was a good year for the Church, as this report from Catholic News Agency notes.

As the reverberations from the recent scandals are flushed out, and the papacy of Pope Benedict continues its historic work, there will be much better years in the near future, better by far.

An excerpt.

“Vatican City, Mar 2, 2009 / 11:55 am (CNA).- This past Saturday the 2009 edition of the “Annuario Pontifico,” or pontifical yearbook, was presented to the Holy Father. The yearbook confirms an increase in both the number of Catholics around the world and in the number of priests and seminarians in Africa and Asia.

“The “Annuario Pontifico” was presented to Pope Benedict by Cardinal Secretary of State Tarcisio Bertone S.D.B. and Archbishop Fernando Filoni, substitute for General Affairs. The book documents the trends of the Catholic Church around the world in recent years.

“For instance, the book notes that in the past year, the Pope erected one archdiocese and 11 new dioceses. He also appointed 169 new bishops.

“The book also notes growth in the Church as a whole. The number of Catholics in the world increased from around 1.131 million in 2006 to nearly 1.147 million in 2007

. The number of bishops also grew from 4,898 in 2006 to 4,946 in 2007.

“Additionally, the number of priests increased over the last eight years, from 405,178 in 2000 to 408,024 in 2007, although the density of their distribution differs from continent to continent. While number of priestly vocations is growing in Africa and Asia (by 27.6 percent and 21.2 percent respectively), in America they remain more or less stationary. Europe and Oceania saw a decline in their priestly ranks (6.8 percent and 5.5 percent respectively), the yearbook says.

“Another fact the yearbook documents is the increase in the number seminarians, from 115,480 in 2006 to 115,919 in 2007. Here too the different continents show differing trends, with notable increases in Africa and Asia while Europe and America show a drop of 2.1 percent and 1 percent respectively.”

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Emptying the Prisons

An article in America Magazine looks at the current over-populated state of America’s prisons, and as they allow comments, this was my comment.

The best way to reduce prison population is to effectively rehabilitate criminals, something the traditional rehabilitative practitioners have so far failed to do, with the current recidivism rate running about 70% nationally.

Becoming a criminal is largely an internal decision—regardless of social situation—and becoming a former criminal is also largely an internal decision; and no one is better equipped to stimulate that internal decision than a reformed criminal, and no institution is better positioned to encourage that internal decision than the Catholic Church.

It is our hope that the Church will soon become much more deeply involved in prison ministry and prisoner reentry work by supporting reformed criminals who bring ideas, passion and grounding in the social teaching of the Church, to the work of criminal reformation.

An excerpt.

“Extreme overcrowding in California’s prison system, the nation’s largest, led a panel of three federal judges in early February to call for reducing the state’s prison population by a third. The prison system holds twice the number it was designed for, with tiered bunks filling gyms and classrooms. The judges were especially alarmed by the effects of the crowding, which has led to deterioration in mental and physical health care, preventable deaths and suicides at the rate of one a month—a situation so dire they called it a violation of the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. A primary cause of the crowding is mandatory minimum sentencing policies, which essentially tie judges’ hands in meting out sentences, especially regarding drug offenses, which are common. California has made extensive use of such sentences and also the so-called “three strikes laws,” which require sentences of 25 years to life for third-time felony offenders, no matter what the third offense is.

“California’s incarceration problems, however, are simply outsized reflections of what is happening around the country. The Bureau of Justice Statistics reported in December that the nation’s prison population continues to rise, with almost 2.5 million people behind bars. Many prisons are managed privately by groups like the Corrections Corporation of America. In the United States the overall cost of incarceration exceeds $60 billion a year.

“Sentencing practices in Europe, by contrast, tend to be far more conducive to rehabilitation. In Norway, for example, few prisoners serve more than 14 years, even for such a serious crime as murder. In many cases prisoners receive weekend parole after they have served seven years. This allows them to maintain contact with their families, which has long been recognized as a key factor in lowering recidivism rates. In Italy, after serving 10 years a prisoner may be permitted to work in the community during the day.”

Monday, March 2, 2009

Prison Consultants

In an interesting entrepreneurship move, the Los Angeles Times reports how some ex-prisoners are now consulting with people on their way to prison, the ins and outs, the ways and nays; surely an interesting development that will hardly reduce the impact of full immersion into the carceral world for the first time prisoner.

However, all in all, pretty good advice.

An excerpt.

“White-collar criminals have long employed coaches to prep them on what to expect when they trade in their designer clothes for institutional khaki. Past students include Martha Stewart (securities fraud), Leona Helmsley (tax evasion) and financier Ivan Boesky (insider trading).

“Now a new crop of consultants is using the Web to democratize this rarefied service, reaching out to small-time hustlers who saw the opportunity of a lifetime and seized it, regardless of the consequences.

“Among these self-styled gurus are former prison staffers, disbarred lawyers and self-trained former jailhouse lawyers who've hung their shingles on the outside.

"We like to use the phrase 'jailhouse litigator,' " says Levine, 47. "Jailhouse lawyer sounds cheap."

“For fees ranging from a few hundred dollars to many thousands, consultants will explain the maze of regulations that govern every minute behind bars. They'll show clients how to file a grievance, obtain a desirable prison job or get transferred to a nicer lockup. They'll tell clients what to say when being evaluated for a substance abuse rehab program that can shave up to a year off a sentence.

“Most important, they give newbies a crash course on prison lingo, culture and behavior -- the do's and don'ts of a violent place where the wrong move could be their last.

"It's like going to a foreign country and having to learn a new language," says Tom Miller, 54, who did time in a California prison in the 1990s for dealing methamphetamine and now works as a counselor for a San Diego business called Dr. Prison.

"When I went in, my first cellie was a white supremacist shot-caller named Pinky," Miller says. "He was absolutely huge. He had Nazi signs on his toes. He started talking about some of his crimes and one of them was the rape of another inmate. . . . I was absolutely panicked."

“Miller says the insight he gleaned from Pinky and other encounters gives him the authority to speak about surviving prison unscathed, as he did.

“Lesson No. 1: Stay with your own race. Don't use the phone of a person of another race. Don't play cards with people of another race.

“Other lessons: Don't join a gang. Don't divulge too much information about yourself and don't lie -- it's a sign of disrespect. Don't snitch. Don't become overly chummy with anyone because no one is your friend. Learn how to anticipate riots and avoid being raped; owing anyone money or a favor makes one vulnerable.

"We deal with anybody who has fears," Miller says. "We also try to prepare people for the family situations they'll encounter. You want to be mindful of your finances. Most spouses won't be there when you get out. People always say, 'Oh no, she's going to stick with me.' We tell them, 'No, she won't. So you want to protect your money now.' "

“Levine, a gourmand when it comes to serving up expletives, counsels circumspection and extreme politeness.

"Show ultimate respect. Be courteous. People are under a lot of stress in prison," he says. "Don't argue. Don't confront. . . . I knew people were lying to me all the time. . . . 'Hey, you want to be Elvis? Bigfoot? Thank you, Mr. President!' I didn't care what or who they wanted to be. I was just doing my own time."

“Levine, who deals exclusively with federal cases, calls his program Fedtime 101. Its curriculum is based on what he learned during 10 years in federal prisons for drug dealing and securities fraud.

"Why trust your future with amateurs?" says Levine, who founded American Prison Consultants in 2006 after being placed on supervisory release. "You get a lot of well-meaning people doing this kind of thing who don't know what they're talking about. They lack my experience. They haven't lived it. I teach people what they need to know."