Thursday, September 30, 2010

Criminal Justice Policy

Central to sound criminal justice public policy is an understanding—as the Criminal Justice Guiding Principles of the Lampstand Foundation note—that police and correctional professionals form the foundation, and shorting their numbers or resources is always weakens the structure built upon them.

This article from the Washington Post reports on the impact when police budgets are reduced.

An excerpt.

“Police chiefs across the country say that they are feeling the effects of the nation's economic downturn directly, with budget cuts forcing them to reduce their ranks and leading to fears that the downturn in crime will soon be reversed.

“In Sacramento, beset by California's financial woes, homicides are up 43 percent this year, assaults on police are up 13 percent, and Chief Rick Braziel said he had to eliminate his vice unit.

“In Phoenix, Chief Joe Harris said he does not have the funds to fill more than 10 percent of his officer jobs and knows he will not be filling any vacancies for another three years. Harris had to put 50 of his 95 school resource officers back on the streets, though school resource officers are seen as crucial tools in fighting gangs.

“In Lawrence, Mass., the need to keep officers answering 911 calls forced Chief John J. Romero to eliminate the units focused on drugs, domestic violence, auto theft, insurance fraud and gangs, he said. This summer, when the cuts took effect, auto thefts immediately soared.

"It's what's happening to all police departments, I get it," Romero said, in a city of 73,000 where crime had dropped 60 percent since 1999. "But it's had a major impact on our city."

“In Washington on Thursday, more than 100 police chiefs and law enforcement experts are gathering to discuss whether the economic downturn is fundamentally changing the way police departments do their jobs. The gathering is sponsored by the D.C.-based Police Executive Research Forum, which surveyed more than 600 state and local law agencies earlier this month and found they had sustained an average budget cut of 7 percent this year. Department budgets had increased 6 percent on average the prior year.

"For the longest time," said Chuck Wexler, the forum's executive director, "people thought that the police didn't matter, didn't affect the crime rate. Now we've seen that's not true." He said improved policing helped drive the number of homicides in New York City down from 2,200 in 1990 to 466 last year. Homicides are up 13 percent in New York City so far this year, he said.

“In the District, homicides dropped from 454 in 1993 to 143 last year.

“But the tactics that reduced crime, Wexler said, such as placing officers in schools, targeting high-crime areas and focusing on particular crimes, "are now being eroded, across the country."

“In interviews, several chiefs said that their first priority was answering calls for service, and placing enough officers on the street means taking them from somewhere else. The Minneapolis police had to eliminate their narcotics unit, Wexler said, and the Boston police cut their bicycle and mounted patrol squads.

“In Montgomery County, Chief J. Thomas Manger said he once had officers in every high school in the county. Now he has none in the middle schools and is down to nine school resource officers, who must shuttle between more than 30 schools.”

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The New World

I have been reading the 1996 book, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order, and have been quite impressed with the author’s accuracy in examining our world; and we sense that the vitality of the Catholic world will continue its strong emergence in the public square, as it works it way through the self-imposed horrors of evil priests attacking the children of the Church.

The author of Clash of Civilizations' premise is that the world is no longer divided by the national boundaries that appear on maps, but the cultural and religious markers that they share, and this article in New Geography expands on that theme.

An excerpt.

“For centuries we have used maps to delineate borders that have been defined by politics. But it may be time to chuck many of our notions about how humanity organizes itself. Across the world a resurgence of tribal ties is creating more complex global alliances. Where once diplomacy defined borders, now history, race, ethnicity, religion, and culture are dividing humanity into dynamic new groupings.

“Broad concepts—green, socialist, or market-capitalist ideology—may animate cosmopolitan elites, but they generally do not motivate most people. Instead, the “tribe” is valued far more than any universal ideology. As the great Arab historian Ibn Khaldun observed: “Only Tribes held together by a group feeling can survive in a desert.”

“Although tribal connections are as old as history, political upheaval and globalization are magnifying their impact. The world’s new contours began to emerge with the end of the Cold War. Maps designating separate blocs aligned to the United States or the Soviet Union were suddenly irrelevant. More recently, the notion of a united Third World has been supplanted by the rise of China and India. And newer concepts like the BRIC nations (Brazil, Russia, India, and China) are undermined by the fact that these countries have vastly different histories and cultures.

“The borders of this new world will remain protean, subject to change over time. Some places do not fit easily into wide categories—take that peculiar place called France—so we’ve defined them as Stand-Alones. And there are the successors to the great city-states of the Renaissance—places like London and Singapore. What unites them all are ties defined by affinity, not geography.”

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Pope John Paul II

The final volume of the magisterial biography of John Paul II by George Weigel has been released, and it is a very must read, to understand much of what has been happening in the world over the past thirty years.

An excellent article about it is from The Catholic Thing.

An excerpt.

“The new book is subtitled “Pope John Paul II – The Victory of Freedom and the Last Years, the Legacy” and begins on the eve of the pope’s death in 2005, the world watching. St. Peter aside, possibly no other pope made such an impact on his age. Weigel writes that the pope had become a “global moral reference point.” Even if you disagreed with, disliked, or disparaged him, John Paul II had to be reckoned with; his influence was undeniable, not least because more people – in some cases millions at a time – had seen him in person than any other human ever. Everywhere he went, he gave love and received love.

“But God knows he had enemies; none greater than the leadership of international communism, and since the publication of Witness to Hope much previously classified material has become available. Weigel details how: “Vast human and financial resources were expended in the communist war against Karol Wojtyla . . . and the Church he led. Those efforts ultimately proved futile, for the weapons Wojtyla deployed were weapons whose impact communist tactics could not blunt.”

“How the poet-philosopher Karol –first as a priest, then as bishop, archbishop, cardinal, and finally as pope – became not just an opponent of communism but, indeed, its nemesis is a tale for the ages. Practically from his ordination (1946) the future pope was regarded with uneasiness by one or another state-security apparat behind the Iron Curtain. He became known in intelligence files as PEDAGOG, and in the two decades between his consecration as an auxiliary bishop and his election as pope, his residences were bugged, his movements tracked, his friends made targets of energetic secret-police recruitment efforts – some successful. The Reds came at him with all they had and in every imaginable way, and their failure was spectacular. They seemed never to understand him or to grasp how successfully he was actually undermining them. Vatican officials had long sought ways to keep the Faith alive in Eastern Europe and sought diplomatically a modus non moriendi, a “way of not dying,” that was sometimes perilously close to appeasement. Then along comes this gentle Polish warrior, and it’s the enemy that can’t survive. Few in the Vatican (or anywhere else) had foreseen this.

“How did it happen? Well, that’s what the first part of The End and the Beginning explains, but if you want the simple truth, it’s this: John Paul II’s faith was fearless. And it didn’t hurt that Ronald Reagan boldly had his back, although it was the pope who was indispensable in the process; he who told the world: “Be not afraid.” And the world believed him.

“Mr. Weigel argues that that there was a twofold cause of the pope’s apparent inattention to and inaction concerning the simmering sex-abuse crisis that fogged the final years of his papacy: first was poor communication between Rome and bishops (and their superiors) in the United States and elsewhere – men who lacked the courage to face the truth; and, second, was Papa Wojtyla’s own experience during his many battles with totalitarian ideologues – people for whom pedophile slanders were a frequent tactic. John Paul was told too little; he mistrusted what he heard.”

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Becoming Catholic & the Bishops Conference

When my wife and I were going through the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults in 2002-2003 in a (as we later learned) very liberal parish whose leadership still held to the liberation theology paradigm, one of the things we were taught was that many of the teachings of the Church were optional.

Reference was made to documents of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) to validate this, and it was not until I began a serious study of the social teaching of the Church after being baptized, that I actually began to learn the truth of what the Church teaches.

What I learned was that you had to consult the primary documents, not the Conference, and foremost among the primary documents are the Catechism of the Council of Trent, the Catechism of the Catholic Church (1st edition of 1992 and the 2nd edition of 1997), and many others, which we list on our website, apostolate page.

This article from The Catholic Thing addresses the issues with the USCCB.

An excerpt.

“For years the lobbying office at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) produced a quadrennial presidential questionnaire that was supposed to help Catholic voters decide which candidate most closely supported Catholic teaching. The problem was that the questionnaire reflected the teachings of the Church less than the policy preferences of the conference’s liberal-Democratic lay staff. The questionnaire was killed prior to the 2004 election and did not reappear in 2008.

“The questionnaire was probably the best example of the central problem about the USCCB. Many Catholics think the Conference possesses a teaching authority somewhere between their local bishop and the pope, so that something as silly as a presidential questionnaire is thought to be somehow authoritative.

“One brave bishop addressed this issue during a speech in Washington D.C. last week. Bishop Robert Vasa of Baker, Oregon, said that there are good reasons for a conference of bishops, “There is no doubt that such a unified exercise of a pastoral office is both practical and desirable.” Work on revising the translation of the missal, for instance, would have been chaotic if each bishop had had to do it for himself. He cited Haitian relief as impossible without Catholic Charities and conceded that the conference played a sometimes useful role in identifying issues, conducting research, and even influencing national debates.

“But he drew sharp lines, too: “It is sometimes easy for the conference to revert to stronger patterns of autonomy and even to be perceived as possessing types of authority that it neither claims nor possesses. It is easy to forget that the conference is the vehicle to assist bishops in cooperating with each other and not a separate regulatory commission.”

“Bishop Vasa described a situation in which documents – inevitably produced by meat-grinding consensus in conference committees – can be vague, flat, and easily misunderstood: “I fear that there has been such a steady diet of such flattened documents that anything issued by individual bishops that contains some element of strength is readily and roundly condemned or simply dismissed as being out of touch with the conference or in conflict with what other bishops might do.”

“He strongly asserted the longstanding canonical authority of the local bishop over against anything produced by bishops’ conferences. The Doctrine Committee may be very helpful for a local bishop who is thinking through an issue. But he warned that the bishop should not then say the Doctrine Committee “has decided.” Rather the Bishop should make clear, “After consultation with the Doctrine Committee I have decided. . .” That’s the ancient system in a Catholic diocese, and there should be no confusion about who is the decider.

“In support of his argument, Vasa cited both Joseph Ratzinger and John Paul II, Ratzinger said, “No Episcopal conference, as such, has a teaching mission: its documents have no weight of their own save that of the consent given to them by individual bishops.” John Paul II wrote, “In fact, only the faithful entrusted to the pastoral care of a particular bishop are required to accept his judgment in the name of Christ in matters of faith and morals, and to adhere to it with religious assent of soul.”

Saturday, September 25, 2010

This Should Not Happen

This story in the Los Angeles Times reporting that criminal predators are being allowed to work in the homes of the vulnerable documents a reality that should not be allowed to happen.

Clearly, the rights of former criminals to work needs to be protected, but when there is a substantial relationship between the offense and the possibility of recurrence in the work environment—which this clearly is—then the rights of the potential victims need take precedence.

An excerpt.

“Scores of people convicted of crimes such as rape, elder abuse and assault with a deadly weapon are permitted to care for some of California's most vulnerable residents as part of the government's home health aide program.

“Data provided by state officials show that at least 210 workers and applicants flagged by investigators as unsuitable to work in the program are nonetheless scheduled to resume or begin employment.

“State and county investigators have not reported many whose backgrounds include violent crimes because the rules of the program, as interpreted by a judge earlier this year, permit felons to work as home care aides. Thousands of current workers have had no background checks.

“Only a history of specific types of child abuse, elder abuse or defrauding of public assistance programs can disqualify a person under the court ruling. But not all perpetrators of even those crimes can be blocked.

“In addition, privacy laws prevent investigators from cautioning the program's elderly, infirm and disabled clients that they may end up in the care of someone who has committed violent or financial crimes.

"We are allowing these people into the homes of vulnerable individuals without supervision," said John Wagner, director of the state Department of Social Services. "It is dangerous…. These are serious convictions."

“Alarmed administrators and law enforcement officials have warned lawmakers, who have the power to change the program's rules, that the system may be inviting predators to exploit program enrollees. But efforts to address the problem have stalled in the Legislature.

“Lawmakers with ties to unions representing home care workers are wary of making more changes to a program they have cut deeply under pressure from Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Relatively new restrictions on who can work in the program or receive its benefits, also implemented at the governor's urging, have already created unnecessary obstacles, lawmakers and activists say.

“State and county investigators have identified 996 convicted felons working or seeking jobs in the program since background checks were launched last year; 786 of them were removed or declared ineligible, according to the state Department of Social Services.

“The rest are expected to be employed in the program despite the investigators' concerns. Among them is a woman convicted of false imprisonment, assault with a deadly weapon, forging drug prescriptions and selling drugs who continues to work as a caregiver, according to state officials. Another person was convicted of welfare fraud, willfully threatening bodily harm, drug possession and two counts of burglary.”

Friday, September 24, 2010

Reading the Catechism

As mentioned before, I have been reading the Catechism during the few minutes of quiet before Mass, and this morning reflected—again—on what a beautiful presentation of our faith and in what clarity the Catechism moves us through the teaching.

This morning, one reading that struck me with remembrance of part of what drew us to the Church, that unbroken line of authority and grace from the Trinity, through Christ's first Mass in the Upper Room, to us each time we commune at Mass, was this:

"The sacred mystery of the Church's unity" (UR 2)

“813 The Church is one because of her source: "the highest exemplar and source of this mystery is the unity, in the Trinity of Persons, of one God, the Father and the Son in the Holy Spirit." The Church is one because of her founder: for "the Word made flesh, the prince of peace, reconciled all men to God by the cross, . . . restoring the unity of all in one people and one body." The Church is one because of her "soul": "It is the Holy Spirit, dwelling in those who believe and pervading and ruling over the entire Church, who brings about that wonderful communion of the faithful and joins them together so intimately in Christ that he is the principle of the Church's unity." Unity is of the essence of the Church:

“What an astonishing mystery! There is one Father of the universe, one Logos of the universe, and also one Holy Spirit, everywhere one and the same; there is also one virgin become mother, and I should like to call her "Church." (CCC #813)

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Social Teaching Trumps World’s Teaching

This is central to our apostolate work: that the social teaching of the Church trumps that of the criminal world, and when presented to penitential criminals by a reformed criminal with the stature in the criminal world that generates respect and transformative listening, can bring the criminal to salvation.

It is also antidotal to ideological brainwashing, as this article from the Catholic News Agency reports.

An excerpt.

“Buenos Aires, Argentina, Sep 20, 2010 / 05:53 pm (CNA).- Archbishop Hector Aguer of La Plata in Argentina remarked last week that the Church’s social teaching is the best antidote against the ideological brainwashing of young people, which has caused so much harm and suffering in the country.

“The prelate also called for committed lay people to get involved in public life.

“During the opening of the 1st Congress on the Social Doctrine of the Church, organized by the archdiocese’s social ministry office, the archbishop recalled that the task of the Church “is to serve in the formation of consciences, so that each generation may resume the fundamental task of building a just social order.”

“He noted that the laity have the duty to participate in the building of a more just country in various professional fields, especially economics and politics. The archbishop emphasized that politics is an area “where we are missing the presence of upright Catholics well formed in their faith and in the Christian worldview.”

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Crime Data

It is crucial that the data behind crime rates be developed on consistent, transparent benchmarks and data gathering policy be accessible, but, according to this article from the St. Louis Post Dispatch, that may not be the case, and that is troubling, very troubling.

An excerpt.

“ST. LOUIS • Many residents of the Central West End neighborhood awoke Feb. 21 to find a big crime scene: dozens of car windows smashed overnight by thieves.

"When I came outside, the whole doggone neighborhood was out" sweeping up glass bits and filling out forms for a police officer, recalled Dan Thomas, of the 5000 block of Washington Place.

“Police said 52 cars were broken into there and on nearby blocks.

“A few years ago, the city might have counted 52 larcenies in its official statistics. But that day, the police tallied just three larcenies — one per block.

“It may sound fishy to the uninitiated, but that's how the FBI wants local police to count certain property crimes that happen close together — as single incidents. The big cop shop next door, the St. Louis County Police Department, has done it this way for years.

“St. Louis police Chief Dan Isom acknowledged last week that the department has only recently changed its crime counting methodology to adhere to federal guidelines.

“But while the chief has frequently touted a dramatic drop in the city's crime rate, he's never before publicly disclosed any change to the way his department counts crimes.

“Isom's monthly presentations to the Police Board feature crime report graphs that almost always point downward.

“Earlier this month, he told a luncheon crowd of 1,000 business leaders that crime was down 25 percent over three years.

“A local expert on the city's crime trends said the department should have been more upfront.

"When a change is made, the public is owed an explanation," said Rick Rosenfeld, a criminologist at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. "Especially when you begin to count multiple victimizations as one."

“In an interview, Isom said he did not know how much of the apparent drop in crime was really only on paper.

“He said he was "fairly confident" that crime really was in steep decline.

“The change has been an "ongoing process of reviewing our statistics, not one big revelation," he said. "As you find little problems, when you do report that to the public?"

“Isom said the department also realized it had been under-counting assaults by counting them by incident, instead of by victim. A shooting in which five people were targets now turns into five aggravated assaults instead of one, he said.

“The city police have had few outside eyes on recent years' data. For years, they hired a St. Louis University dean to review their crime data but discontinued the audits after 2007.

“The Post-Dispatch has been unable to analyze recent crime trends because, starting in 2008, the department blocked reporters' access to some data that had been made available in previous years.

“Isom noted that the Missouri Highway Patrol, which compiles crime statistics statewide, gave the department a 92 percent compliance rating.

"I'm very confident that what we're doing is appropriate," he said.


“Experts in policing said the questions about St. Louis' crime numbers provide more proof that so-called "Uniform Crime Statistics" aren't very uniform — or meaningful — despite the importance that people place on them.”

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Newman & the Catholic Revival

His work in England revived the Church there and helped inspire it in America, as this article from the Miami Herald by one of the Church’s foremost writers, Joseph Pearce, notes.

An excerpt.

“The beatification of Cardinal John Henry Newman on Sunday during the pope's visit to England is a timely reminder of Newman's monumental importance to the revival of Catholicism in his native England and the United States. His 1845 reception into the Catholic Church heralded a new dawn for Catholicism in the English-speaking world.

“Before Newman, England's Catholic presence had withered to such a degree that only remnants of the old recusant families still carried the faith. These adherents to the ``Old Faith'' bore Catholicism in their hearts and in their homes, but they were effectively excluded from bringing it into public life. After Newman's conversion, Catholicism became a major intellectual presence in English cultural life. Thousands of British citizens followed him and converted to Catholicism. This phenomenon crossed the Atlantic, heralding a similar revival in the United States.

“If Newman's historical importance is beyond question, so is the great legacy he bequeath-ed to posterity. In theology, philosophy, education and literature his influence on both sides of the Atlantic is remarkable.

“Newman's famous February 1843 sermon on Development in Christian Doctrine has become the benchmark for doctrinal-development study.

“His discourses on liberal education, delivered to Catholic audiences in Dublin in 1852 as he prepared to become rector of the new Catholic University of Ireland, were published two years later as The Idea of a University, a book that remains one of the finest and most eloquent works advocating the efficacy of an integrated liberal arts education.

“To this day, Newman's influence can be seen in the founding of new Catholic centers of higher education such as Florida's Ave Maria University, Virginia's Christendom College and California's Thomas Aquinas College.”

Monday, September 20, 2010

Peter in England II

The history of the Church in England is crucial to an understanding of the profile of the Church among English and American Protestants, and to put into context the extraordinary course of events currently unfolding.

One of my favorite sources are the two recent and historically dramatized (and from a purely Protestant perspective that unwittingly reveals the Catholic one) movies about Queen Elizabeth—Elizabeth and Elizabeth, The Golden Age—who was one of the harshest persecutors of Catholics at that time.

The wrap-up of the Holy Father’s visit is noted by Chiesa.

An excerpt.

“ROME, September 19, 2010 – On this, his fourth and last day in the United Kingdom, Benedict XVI has elevated to the honors of the altar Blessed John Henry Newman, during the Mass celebrated in Cofton Park in Birmingham (in the photo).

“In the homily, the pope again brought to light the relevance of Newman's vision, in particular for teachers and priests.

“In the afternoon, also in Birmingham, in the chapel of the Francis Martin House of Oscott College, Benedict XVI met with the bishops of England, Scotland, and Wales.

“In the speech he addressed to them, he insisted on the revival of evangelization, on the fight against pedophilia, and on a more devout celebration of the Eucharist with the new English translation of the missal.

“The pope also urged the bishops to be "generous" in welcoming the Anglican communities that want to enter the Catholic Church: "a prophetic gesture that... helps us to set our sights on the ultimate goal of all ecumenical activity."

“Below are the final part of the homily and the salient passages of the speech to the bishops.


“[...] The definite service to which Blessed John Henry was called involved applying his keen intellect and his prolific pen to many of the most pressing "subjects of the day". His insights into the relationship between faith and reason, into the vital place of revealed religion in civilized society, and into the need for a broadly-based and wide-ranging approach to education were not only of profound importance for Victorian England, but continue today to inspire and enlighten many all over the world.

“I would like to pay particular tribute to his vision for education, which has done so much to shape the ethos that is the driving force behind Catholic schools and colleges today. Firmly opposed to any reductive or utilitarian approach, he sought to achieve an educational environment in which intellectual training, moral discipline and religious commitment would come together. The project to found a Catholic University in Ireland provided him with an opportunity to develop his ideas on the subject, and the collection of discourses that he published as "The Idea of a University" holds up an ideal from which all those engaged in academic formation can continue to learn. And indeed, what better goal could teachers of religion set themselves than Blessed John Henry’s famous appeal for an intelligent, well-instructed laity: "I want a laity, not arrogant, not rash in speech, not disputatious, but men who know their religion, who enter into it, who know just where they stand, who know what they hold and what they do not, who know their creed so well that they can give an account of it, who know so much of history that they can defend it" ("The Present Position of Catholics in England", IX, 390). On this day when the author of those words is raised to the altars, I pray that, through his intercession and example, all who are engaged in the task of teaching and catechesis will be inspired to greater effort by the vision he so clearly sets before us.

“While it is John Henry Newman’s intellectual legacy that has understandably received most attention in the vast literature devoted to his life and work, I prefer on this occasion to conclude with a brief reflection on his life as a priest, a pastor of souls. The warmth and humanity underlying his appreciation of the pastoral ministry is beautifully expressed in another of his famous sermons: "Had Angels been your priests, my brethren, they could not have condoled with you, sympathized with you, have had compassion on you, felt tenderly for you, and made allowances for you, as we can; they could not have been your patterns and guides, and have led you on from your old selves into a new life, as they can who come from the midst of you" ("Men, not Angels: the Priests of the Gospel", in "Discourses to Mixed Congregations", 3).

“He lived out that profoundly human vision of priestly ministry in his devoted care for the people of Birmingham during the years that he spent at the Oratory he founded, visiting the sick and the poor, comforting the bereaved, caring for those in prison. No wonder that on his death so many thousands of people lined the local streets as his body was taken to its place of burial not half a mile from here. One hundred and twenty years later, great crowds have assembled once again to rejoice in the Church’s solemn recognition of the outstanding holiness of this much-loved father of souls. What better way to express the joy of this moment than by turning to our heavenly Father in heartfelt thanksgiving, praying in the words that Blessed John Henry Newman placed on the lips of the choirs of angels in heaven: "Praise to the Holiest in the height / And in the depth be praise; / In all his words most wonderful, / Most sure in all his ways!" ("The dream of Gerontius").


“[...] In the course of my visit it has become clear to me how deep a thirst there is among the British people for the Good News of Jesus Christ. You have been chosen by God to offer them the living water of the Gospel, encouraging them to place their hopes, not in the vain enticements of this world, but in the firm assurances of the next. As you proclaim the coming of the Kingdom, with its promise of hope for the poor and the needy, the sick and the elderly, the unborn and the neglected, be sure to present in its fulness the life-giving message of the Gospel, including those elements which call into question the widespread assumptions of today’s culture. As you know, a Pontifical Council has recently been established for the New Evangelization of countries of long-standing Christian tradition, and I would encourage you to avail yourselves of its services in addressing the task before you. Moreover, many of the new ecclesial movements have a particular charism for evangelization, and I know that you will continue to explore appropriate and effective ways of involving them in the mission of the Church. [...]”

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Catholics in America

Which this article in First Things examines.

An excerpt.

“One of the key myths of the American Catholic imagination is this: After 200 years of fighting against public prejudice, Catholics finally broke through into America’s mainstream with the 1960 election of John F. Kennedy as president. It’s a happy thought, and not without grounding. Next to America’s broad collection of evangelical churches, baptized Catholics now make up the biggest religious community in the United States. They serve in large numbers in Congress. They have a majority on the Supreme Court. They play commanding roles in the professions and in business leadership. They’ve climbed, at long last, the Mt. Zion of social acceptance.

“So goes the tale. What this has actually meant for the direction of American life, however, is another matter. Catholic statistics once seemed impressive. They filled many of us with tribal pride. But they didn’t stop a new and quite alien national landscape, a “next America,” from emerging right under our noses.

“While both Barna Group and Pew Research Center data show that Americans remain a broadly Christian people, old religious loyalties are steadily softening. Overall, the number of Americans claiming no religious affiliation, about 16 percent, has doubled since 1990. One quarter of Americans aged 18-29 have no affiliation with any particular religion, and as the Barna Group noted in 2007, they “exhibit a greater degree of criticism toward Christianity than did previous generations when they were at the same stage of life. In fact, in just a decade . . . the Christian image [has] shifted substantially downward, fueled in part by a growing sense of disengagement and disillusionment among young people.”

“Catholic losses have been masked by Latino immigration. But while 31 percent of Americans say they were raised in the Catholic faith, fewer than 24 percent of Americans now describe themselves as Catholic.

“These facts have weight because, traditionally, religious faith has provided the basis for Americans’ moral consensus. And that moral consensus has informed American social policy and law. What people believe—or don’t believe—about God, helps to shape what they believe about men and women. And what they believe about men and women creates the framework for a nation’s public life.

“Or to put it more plainly: In the coming decades Catholics will likely find it harder, not easier, to influence the course of American culture, or even to live their faith authentically. And the big difference between the “next America” and the old one will be that plenty of other committed religious believers may find themselves in the same unpleasant jam as their Catholic cousins.”

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Getting it Right

One of the advantages of reading books about world events, several years after they were written, is seeing if they were, or are, right.

The 1996 book, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order, is, and here is an excerpt from the author’s examination of Islamic Resurgence.

“This Islamic Resurgence in its extent and profundity is the latest phase in the adjustment of Islamic civilization to the West, an effort to find the “solution” not in Western ideologies but in Islam. It embodies acceptance of modernity, rejection of Western culture, and recommitment to Islam as the guide to life in the modern world.” (pp. 109-110)

“The strength of the Resurgence and the appeal of Islamist movements induced governments to promote Islamic institutions and practices and to incorporate Islamic symbols and practices into their regime. At the broadest level this meant affirming or reaffirming the Islamic character of their state and society. In the 1970s and 1980s political leaders rushed to identify their regimes and themselves with Islam. King Hussein of Jordan, convinced that secular governments had little future in the Arab world, spoke of the need to create “Islamic democracy” and a “modernizing Islam.” King Hassan of Morocco emphasized his descent from the Prophet and his role as “Commander of the Faithful.” The sultan of Brunei, not previously noted for Islamic practices, became “increasingly devout” and defined his regime as a “Malay Muslim monarchy.” Ben Ali in Tunisia began regularly to invoke Allah in his speeches and “wrapped himself in the mantle of Islam” to check the growing appeal of Islamic groups. In the early 1990s Suharto explicitly adopted a policy of becoming “more Muslim.” In Bangladesh the principle of “secularism” was dropped from the constitution in the mid 1970s, and by the early 1990s the secular, Kemalist identify of Turkey was, for the first time, coming under serious challenge. To underline their Islamic commitment, governmental leaders—Ozal, Suharto, Karimov—hastened to their hajh.” (p. 115)

Friday, September 17, 2010

Peter in England

Here is an excellent story, with great photos, from the Wall Street Journal on his historic visit.

An excerpt.

“EDINBURGH, Scotland—Pope Benedict XVI on Thursday faulted the Roman Catholic hierarchy for not acting swiftly to stop sexual abuse by priests, as he traveled to the U.K.

“The Vatican has billed the trip, the first-ever papal state visit to the U.K., as an occasion for the pope to reassert himself on the world stage and challenge Europe's drift from church teachings. After visiting Queen Elizabeth II in Edinburgh and presiding over a mass in Glasgow, the pope flew to London Thursday night.

“Prior to arriving in Scotland, the pope responded to written questions from reporters aboard the papal flight to the U.K., which arrived in Scotland Thursday morning.

“When asked to respond to recent polls showing the scandal had shaken the faith of British Catholics, the pope said he was "shocked by the revelations" of abuse, which he described as a "perversion that is hard to understand."

"It's sad that church authorities were not sufficiently vigilant, fast and decisive to take the necessary measures. For all of this, we are in a moment of penitence," the pope said.

“The comments were the first time the pope has directed criticism at the highest ranks of Roman Catholicism. The pope has chastised abusive priests, accepted the resignations of bishops who failed to report abuse and tightened church laws on disciplining abusive priests. He hasn't, however, delved into what some victims of abuse consider the root cause of the crisis: bishops and cardinals who cover up for abusive priests.

“Critics of the pope have called on him to order bishops and other officials to immediately report allegations of sexual abuse to police. Vatican laws have no such requirement. Church officials are required to comply with civil laws in their respective countries, but many predominantly Catholic countries, such as Italy, don't have mandatory reporting laws.

“The pope called on church authorities to ensure that abusive priests "are excluded from every form of contact with the young." He added that abusive priests suffered from a "sickness" and needed to be "protected from themselves." The pope didn't say how authorities should crack down.”

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Police Body Armor

A RAND News Release indicates that it is cost-effective to provide all police with body armor, and we couldn’t agree more with the concept of doing everything we can to protect those who risk their lives daily for us; it is tough out there.

An excerpt.

“Providing body armor to all law enforcement officers in the United States would provide enough benefit to justify the cost, according to a new RAND Corporation study.

“Analyzing police officer shootings over a four-year period, the study found that wearing body armor more than tripled the likelihood that an officer would survive a shooting to the torso and estimated that providing such equipment to all officers nationally would save at least eight lives annually. While most police departments already use body armor, many still do not.

“Considering the value of the life of an officer killed by gunfire, the study concludes that the benefits of providing body armor to all officers would be twice as large as the cost. The findings were published online by the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Hygiene.

“While it is well-known that body armor saves lives, we've never known just how effective it is,” said Tom LaTourrette, the study's author and a senior scientist at RAND, a nonprofit research organization. “The additional cost of providing body armor to all law enforcement officers in the United States is more than justified compared to the savings that would be created by fewer serious injuries and officer deaths.”

“Body armor began to be used by law enforcement agencies in the United States during the middle of the 1970s and today about 75 percent of officers nationwide work in departments that require the equipment to be worn while officers are on duty or in certain high-risk situations.

“No high-quality studies have been done previously to examine the effectiveness of body armor among police officers.

“LaTourrette examined 561 line-of-duty shootings involving police officers nationally between 2004 and 2007. Among the 262 torso shootings studied, officers who were not wearing body armor had a 68 percent chance of dying as compared to a 20 percent among those who did wear armor.

“The study estimates that it costs $112 per year to provide an officer with body armor. So outfitting the 236,000 police officers who do not have body armor would cost about $26 million annually, while the study estimates the economic value of the lives saved each year at $51 million.”

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Working the System

In a well-known paradigm, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports on how a young criminal stayed free to become a more dangerous older criminal.

An excerpt.

“When it came to violent crime, Armando Barragan started young, shooting up a van of rival gang members at age 14 and, eight months later, attacking a Milwaukee police officer, trying to grab his gun.

“The crimes landed Barragan in the juvenile justice system, but he got breaks that kept him on the street, where he committed new crimes, according to Children's Court records and police reports reviewed by the Journal Sentinel.

“Barragan quickly rose to become a leader of the Latin Kings and was charged with ordering the execution of a man who tried to stop a fight outside a Cudahy gas station in 2003 - one of six homicides or attempted homicides he was investigated for by the time he was 18.

“The Journal Sentinel reported in July that miscommunication between federal and state authorities resulted in missing a chance to arrest Barragan in a courtroom before he fled to Mexico and became one of the U.S. Marshals Service's most wanted fugitives.

“Court documents show Barragan could have - and probably should have - been behind bars in April 2003, when Kevin Hirschfield was shot to death outside the gas station. He was free because of breaks he received, first from a judge and later from police, according to court records and interviews.

“The failure to hold Barragan accountable for crimes he committed as a child is the latest example of how a cagey gang leader beat the criminal justice system. The case shows that a teenager who says and does the right things can avoid punishment in the children's system, or at least delay it.

"He absolutely worked the system to his advantage, but that is the way the system is designed," said Milwaukee Assistant District Attorney Joy Hammond, who handled part of Barragan's case and added that the system remains largely unchanged eight years later. "The smart kids know what to say, and they are home in two seconds and out doing what they want."

“Kevin Hirschfield's sister said she is outraged by the latest revelation about failures to hold Barragan accountable.

"How could one man cheat the system so much and get away with it?" Amy Hirschfield said. "I don't understand what people were thinking."

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Crime Drops

The FBI reports crime has dropped.

Compstat policing and three strikes sentencing continue taking a toll on criminals, as the Wall Street Journal reports.

An excerpt.

“The number of violent crimes reported in 2009 declined for the third-consecutive year, the Federal Bureau of Investigation reported, with law-enforcement officials crediting better policing despite cutbacks caused by the weak economy.

“Violent crime was down 5.3% and property crime declined 4.6%, according to the FBI's full-year statistics released Monday. The property-crime decrease was the seventh-consecutive annual drop.

“Policing experts attribute lower rates to a number of factors, from improved policing tactics to demographic trends. The U.S. also imprisons people at a much higher rate than other industrialized countries....

“The FBI crime statistics are gathered from nearly 18,000 federal, state and local law-enforcement agencies, which cover more than 96% of the U.S. population.

“Among the types of violent crimes that posted decreases in 2009 were murders, rapes, robberies and assaults. Among the sharpest declines was the number of murders. The FBI estimated 15,241 people were murdered nationwide in 2009, down 7.3% from the 2008 estimate.”

Monday, September 13, 2010

Sign of Contradiction

The saint we celebrate today is a powerful example of that injunction, and his life as a bishop a path to follow for those bishops with the strength and clarity to do so.

An excerpt from Saint of the Day.

“The ambiguity and intrigue surrounding John, the great preacher (his name means "golden-mouthed") from Antioch, are characteristic of the life of any great man in a capital city. Brought to Constantinople after a dozen years of priestly service in Syria, John found himself the reluctant victim of an imperial ruse to make him bishop in the greatest city of the empire. Ascetic, unimposing but dignified, and troubled by stomach ailments from his desert days as a monk, John became a bishop under the cloud of imperial politics.

“If his body was weak, his tongue was powerful. The content of his sermons, his exegesis of Scripture, were never without a point. Sometimes the point stung the high and mighty. Some sermons lasted up to two hours.

“His lifestyle at the imperial court was not appreciated by many courtiers. He offered a modest table to episcopal sycophants hanging around for imperial and ecclesiastical favors. John deplored the court protocol that accorded him precedence before the highest state officials. He would not be a kept man.

“His zeal led him to decisive action. Bishops who bribed their way into office were deposed. Many of his sermons called for concrete steps to share wealth with the poor. The rich did not appreciate hearing from John that private property existed because of Adam's fall from grace any more than married men liked to hear that they were bound to marital fidelity just as much as their wives were. When it came to justice and charity, John acknowledged no double standards.

“Aloof, energetic, outspoken, especially when he became excited in the pulpit, John was a sure target for criticism and personal trouble. He was accused of gorging himself secretly on rich wines and fine foods. His faithfulness as spiritual director to the rich widow, Olympia, provoked much gossip attempting to prove him a hypocrite where wealth and chastity were concerned. His actions taken against unworthy bishops in Asia Minor were viewed by other ecclesiastics as a greedy, uncanonical extension of his authority.

“Two prominent personages who personally undertook to discredit John were Theophilus, Archbishop of Alexandria, and Empress Eudoxia. Theophilus feared the growth in importance of the Bishop of Constantinople and took occasion to charge John with fostering heresy. Theophilus and other angered bishops were supported by Eudoxia. The empress resented his sermons contrasting gospel values with the excesses of imperial court life.”

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Marxism & Personalism

Marxism underlies the way of thinking that continues to be one of the most corrosive threats to the Church (even winding its way into the Church as liberation theology) and in 1938, when Emmanuel Mounier—who heavily influenced Jacques Maritain and Dorothy Day—wrote his seminal book A Personalist Manifesto, (it is very difficult to find a copy, but well worth the search) it was strongly ascendant.

Mounier defines personalism:

“We shall apply the term personalist to any doctrine or any civilization that affirms the primacy of the human person over material necessities and over the whole complex of implements man needs for the development of his person.” (p. 1)

And he argues that:

“Personalism is the only basis on which an honest and successful combat can be waged against Marxism.” (p. 44)

He adds:

“It is this intimate life of the person, vibrant in all our acts, that is the rhythmical reality of human existence. It alone answers the need for authenticity, for true action, and for the fullness of life which Marxist materialism and fascist naturalism try to find in the objective realizations of man. Nothing can take its place.

“The error of the mathematicians,” Engels once wrote, “was to believe that an individual could achieve by himself what can be achieved only by the whole of mankind in its constant development.” We answer that the error of fascism and Marxism is to believe that the nation or the state or Humanity can and must undertake in its collective evolution what alone each human person can and must undertake in his personal development.” (p. 79)

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Outside Crime from Inside Prison

Another in the ongoing reportage of cell phones inside prisons allowing prisoners to control crimes outside, as reported by The Clarion Ledger; and another nail in the coffin of the argument by the USCCB that the death penalty can be abolished because modern penal technology can protect the innocent from the aggressor.

An excerpt.

“More than 216,320 texts and cellular phone calls have been blocked from being delivered inside the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman since Aug. 6, thanks to cutting-edge technology unveiled Wednesday.

“The system forms a radio frequency umbrella that intercepts cell phone transmissions in a specified area, preventing unauthorized communications from inmates.

"It's a big deal that we're first in the U.S. to employ this type of managed access system when there's a problem in virtually every prison and jail in the United States of America," Mississippi Department of Corrections Commissioner Chris Epps said.

“MDOC negotiated so that its telecommunications provider, Global Tel*Link Solutions, and partner Tecore Networks would include a system to control cell phone usage without costing the state an additional dime, Epps said. "This system is worth over a half-million dollars in this process," he said.

“So far this year, nearly 2,000 cell phones have been confiscated from Mississippi prisons. Last year, almost 3,600 cell phones were seized

“In recent years, cell phones have been used in prison escapes, including from Parchman, Lee County and the Harrison County Community Work Center, Epps said. One escape culminated in the shooting of a police officer in Nashville. Also, cell phones have been used to call in hits on witnesses or possibly police officers, Epps said.

"In Baltimore, a man called in a hit on his witness and had him killed before trial," Epps said. "A death row inmate in Texas called the state senator, and when they took up the phone, the SIM card had more than 2,000 calls on it. And there's a reason to believe a captain in South Carolina was killed as a result of a cell phone."

Friday, September 10, 2010

Social Justice

1) It is often misunderstood, as this article from Catholic Culture reports :

An excerpt:

“A Connecticut bishop has defended the concept of social justice against critics who “have been telling Catholics to eliminate the term ‘social justice’ from any organization that speaks on Catholic social justice or has this expression as part of its title.” Auxiliary Bishop Peter Rosazza of Hartford is likely referring to comments made earlier this year by radio and television host Glenn Beck, a Catholic who converted to Mormonism.”

2) It is also often misinterpreted by dissenting Catholics, but—understood correctly—is a principle steadfastly embedded within Catholic social teaching, as the Catechism teaches us, and is the second guiding principles of our apostolate, as noted on the Lampstand website.

“We will work for social justice in all that we do.

"1928 Society ensures social justice when it provides the conditions that allow associations or individuals to obtain what is their due, according to their nature and their vocation. Social justice is linked to the common good and the exercise of authority.

"1929 Social justice can be obtained only in respecting the transcendent dignity of man. The person represents the ultimate end of society, which is ordered to him:

"What is at stake is the dignity of the human person, whose defense and promotion have been entrusted to us by the Creator, and to whom the men and women at every moment of history are strictly and responsibly in debt.

"1930 Respect for the human person entails respect for the rights that flow from his dignity as a creature. These rights are prior to society and must be recognized by it. They are the basis of the moral legitimacy of every authority: by flouting them, or refusing to recognize them in its positive legislation, a society undermines its own moral legitimacy. If it does not respect them, authority can rely only on force or violence to obtain obedience from its subjects. It is the Church's role to remind men of good will of these rights and to distinguish them from unwarranted or false claims." (Catechism of the Catholic Church, #1928-1930)

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Police Technology

We all benefit when it improves and this improvement, as reported by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette is a good one.

An excerpt.

“Handguns, notepads and BlackBerrys?

“The tools used by Pittsburgh police officers have changed a little in the past decade.

“Today, in the front seat of each patrol car is a sturdy, wireless laptop that generates maps, streams information from 911 calls and, with the swipe of an officer's "Smart Card," provides access to criminal databases.

"We're creating this technology in-house," said Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, who held a news conference Tuesday with police officials to showcase the department's new technology.

“Sixty patrol cars now have tiny printers that produce waterproof citations and can read and extract information from scanned driver's licenses.

“Officers in Zone 5 are testing windshield-mounted video cameras that remotely upload footage when they drive within 300 feet of a station. A microphone on the officer's lapel records conversations during traffic stops, providing proof of what happened if disputes arise.

"Obviously, the film won't lie," Mr. Ravenstahl said.

“The new technologies reduce paperwork and allow officers to return to the station less frequently, said Deputy Chief Paul Donaldson.
The wealth of information also keeps officers safer, said Sgt. Eric Kroll, who coordinates new technology training.

"There's no lost communication between 911 and the officer," he said.

“The department continues to tweak its tools.

"Things work, things don't work ... it's ever-evolving," said Cmdr. Linda Barone.

“And officers continue to return to the police academy for crash-courses about their dashboard.

"It's like the cockpit of an airplane now," said Officer Don Adamsky.”

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Catholic President & Catholic Politicians

Much of the disastrous showing of Catholic politicians in relation to the dogma of the Church over the past several decades, received a huge boost from the unholy bargain the first Catholic presidential nominee made to become president, in a speech to Protestant ministers, examined in this article from Catholic World Report.

What is heartening is that some Catholic leaders at the time, spoke out against the bargain, but what is disheartening is that more have not, continuing to today.

An excerpt.

“So, what did Kennedy say to the ministers a half-century ago in Houston?

“Part of it was pandering of the kind politicians running for office frequently indulge in. As a young congressman for the Boston district once represented in the US House of Representatives by his own grandfather, John “Honey Fitz” Fitzgerald, and also by legendary Boston mayor James Michael Curley, Kennedy was, in Maier’s words, “a stalwart supporter of the Church.”

“Now, to the Houston ministers he proudly cited his “declared stands against an ambassador to the Vatican, against unconstitutional aid to parochial schools [what would be constitutional was left unsaid, but earlier he’d backed health services, transportation, and textbooks], and against any boycott of the public schools.” He also expressed support for “absolute” separation of church and state.

“None of this, however, was the heart of the speech. That distinction goes instead to the text’s powerful thrust toward privatizing religion. Father John Courtney Murray, SJ—the American theologian whose thinking about church-state relations, religious pluralism, and freedom of conscience was soon to be influential at Vatican Council II—called its position “idiocy.”

“Kennedy’s privatizing of religion operated on two levels: the macro level of politics and public life, and the private level of individual conscience. In both areas, the message was devastating.

“On the public-political level, the text employs the familiar rhetorical device of setting up straw-men in order to knock them down. “I believe,” Kennedy bravely affirmed, “in an America that is officially neither Catholic, Protestant, nor Jewish—where no public official either requests or accepts instructions on public policy from the pope, the National Council of Churches, or any other ecclesiastical source.” But what rational person believes in anything else?

“Far more dangerous, however, is Kennedy’s declaration of belief in an America “where no religious body seeks to impose its will directly or indirectly upon the general populace or the public acts of its officials.” The unspoken but unmistakable subtext of this points to an America where religion has nothing to say to politics and politicians, and churches, docile and domesticated, keep their noses out of public life.

“As for conscience, Kennedy delivered this remarkable pledge: “Whatever issue may come before me as president—on birth control, divorce, censorship, gambling, or any other subject—I will make my decision…in accordance with what my conscience tells me to be in the national interest, and without regard to outside religious pressures or dictates.”

“Practically speaking, this reduces the criterion of right and wrong to national interest—a proposition that would have delighted Machiavelli. Still more, the appropriate instrument for determining where national interest lies is said to be the private judgment of a president, unhampered by objective moral principle, moral doctrine, or anything else.

“A few years later, commenting on Vatican II’s Declaration on Religious Freedom, Dignitatis Humanae, Father Murray said the idea that “I have a right to do what my conscience tells me to do, simply because my conscience tells me to do it” was a “perilous theory” that ended in “subjectivism,” and was not at all what the Council taught.

“And, many more years after that, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, a Catholic, justified her support for legal abortion and gay rights by appealing in a 2009 Newsweek interview to that perilous theory: “I feel what I was raised to believe is consistent with what I profess, and that is that we are all endowed with a free will and a responsibility to answer for our actions. And that women should have that opportunity to exercise their free will.”

“History records that JFK’s speech worked. Kennedy won the election, collecting 80 percent of the Catholic vote and becoming, in the words of Notre Dame historian Jay P. Dolan, a “symbol of success” for his coreligionists.

“The race to embrace positions like those that he enunciated in the 1960 Houston text was much sped up by the Supreme Court’s January 1973 abortion decision in Roe v. Wade. Soon the Democratic Party became the party of legal abortion, and Catholic Democrats scrambled to accommodate their views to the new regime of abortion rights.”

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Jacques Maritain

He was a Catholic philosopher (1882-1973) who was deeply involved in the political life of the early and mid-twentieth century in Europe and America, and whose work will enrich the Church for centuries.

Also, which few people know, he carried on a many year relationship, brightened by letters now published, with Saul Alinsky, a political activist who influenced our president and secretary of state.

In one of his greatest works, Integral Humanism, he wrote this.

“For medieval thought, man was also a person; and one must remark that this notion of person is a notion, if I may so speak, of Christian indication, since it was disengaged and clarified thanks to theology. A person is a universe of spiritual nature endowed with freedom of choice and constituting to this extent a whole which is independent in face of the world—neither nature nor the State can lay hold of the universe without its permission. And God himself, who is and acts within, acts there in a particular manner and with a particularly exquisite delicacy, which shows the value He sets on it: He respects its freedom, at the heart of which He nevertheless lives; He solicits it, He never forces it.

“And moreover, in his concrete and historical existence man, for medieval thought, is not a simply natural being. He is a dislocated being, wounded—by the devil who wounds him with concupiscence, by God who wounds him with love. On the one hand, he bears the heritage of original sin; he is born divested of the gifts of grace, and not, doubtless, substantially corrupted, but wounded in his nature. On the other hand, he is made for a supernatural end: to see God as God sees himself, he is made to attain to the very life of God; he is traversed by the solicitations of actual grace, and if he does not oppose God his power of refusal, he bears within him even here below the properly divine life of sanctifying grace and its gifts.” (The Collected Works of Jacques Maritain, Volume XI: Integral Humanism, Freedom in the Modern World, and A Letter on Independence. (1996). Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press. p.158)

Monday, September 6, 2010

Labor Day

Enjoy the holiday and, as I posted last year, remember that each day is a day of labor embraced by the word and who can say who is working or not, as Guardini in his marvelous work, The Lord, teaches us:

“No one has the right to judge whether or not another lives according to the spirit of the Sermon on the Mount. There is no specific outward behavior that expresses it. Indeed, not even the chosen one himself can be certain how things stand with him. St. Paul says it explicitly: God alone is judge. Dare then to hope that you are chosen! The chance is taken in faith, and neither from the world’s point of view, nor from that of inner or outer experience, can there be any possible objection. But I cannot love my enemy? You can bring yourself to the point of no longer hating him. That is already the beginning of love….I can’t even do that!...Then try at least to keep your dislike out of your speech. That would be a step in the direction of love….

“But surely that would be watering the wine? Isn’t it a question of everything or nothing? To be quite frank, the Either-Or people seldom appear to practice their own severity. Their uncompromising attitude often looks suspiciously like rhetoric. No, what the Sermon on the Mount demands is not everything or nothing, but a beginning and a continuing, a rising again and plodding on after every fall.” (Guardini, R. (1956). The Lord. London: Longmans. (pp. 94-95, ellipsis in original)

Sunday, September 5, 2010

The Scientist at the Creation

Stephen Hawking has been taken to task for venturing into the turf of theologians, by the Word on Fire blog.

An excerpt.

“Father Barron weighs in on renown scientist Stephen Hawking's upcoming book release in which he offers his "scientific" view on the existence of a creator.

“So another prominent British academic has weighed in on the God question. Stephen Hawking, probably the best-known scientist in the world, has said, in a book to be published a week before the Pope’s visit to Britain, that the universe required no Creator. (I’m sure, of course, that there was no “intelligent design” behind that choice of publication date!). I confess that something in me tightens whenever I hear a scientist pontificating on issues that belong to the arena of philosophy or metaphysics. I will gladly listen to Stephen Hawking when he holds forth on matters of theoretical physics, but he’s as qualified to talk about philosophical and religious issues as any college freshman. There is a qualitative difference between the sciences, which speak of objects, forces, and phenomena within the observable universe, and philosophy or religion which speak of ultimate origins and final purposes. Science, as such, simply cannot adjudicate questions that lie outside of its proper purview—and this is precisely why scientists tend to make lots of silly statements when they attempt to philosophize.

“Here’s an example from Hawking’s latest book: “Because there is a law such as gravity, the Universe can and will create itself from nothing.” Well, first of all, which is it: nothing or the law of gravity? There’s quite a substantial difference between the two. If Hawking is saying that the universe, which is marked in every nook and cranny by stunning and mathematically describable intelligibility, simply came forth from Nothing, then I just throw up my hands. The classical philosophical tradition gives us an adage that is still hard to improve upon: ex nihilo nihil fit (from nothing comes nothing). Any teacher worth his salt would take a student to task if, in trying to explain why and how a given phenomenon occurred, the student were to say, “well, it just spontaneously happened.” Yet we are expected to be satisfied with precisely that explanation when it comes to the most pressing and fascinating question of all: why is there something rather than nothing? In my dialogues with atheists, I often come up against this total non-explanation, and I can only smile ruefully. Apparently, the affirmation of God involves far too great a leap of faith, yet the assertion that the universe just popped into being is rationally compelling!

“So suppose we say (to return to Hawking’s rather incoherent statement) that gravity is the ultimate cause of the universe. This would mean that a force within nature is the source of the being of the world. To be sure, this sort of claim has a long pedigree, stretching back at least to the pre-Socratics, but it remains highly problematic. The question “why is there something rather than nothing?” is not searching after a thing within the universe, but rather the being of the universe. It is wondering why (to use the technical term) contingent things exist, that is to say, things that do not contain within themselves the reason for their own being. You and I are contingent in the measure that we had parents, that we eat and drink, and that we breathe. In a word, we don’t explain ourselves. Now if we want to understand why we exist, we cannot go on endlessly appealing to other contingent things. We must come finally to some reality which exists through the power of its own essence, some power whose very nature it is to be. But that whose very nature it is to be cannot, in any sense, be limited or imperfect in being, and this is precisely why Catholic philosophy has identified this non-contingent ground of contingency, this ultimate explanation of the being of the universe, as “God.” To claim that something as finite and variable as the force of gravity is this ultimate explaining value is simply ludicrous. However all-embracing or powerful it is, gravity is still a worldly nature, something within the contingent cosmos.”

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Social Teaching & St. Gregory the Great

A powerful aspect of the social teaching of the Church—too little remarked on but well covered in the magisterial books by Rodger Charles SJ (the two volume work, Christian Social Witness and Teaching :The Catholic Tradition from Genesis to Centesimus Annus, and An Introduction to Catholic Social Teaching)—is the history of acts of charity that far preceded those of the world, noted in this profile of St. Gregory from Saint of the Day.

An excerpt.

“Coming events cast their shadows before: Gregory was the prefect of Rome before he was 30. After five years in office he resigned, founded six monasteries on his Sicilian estate and became a Benedictine monk in his own home at Rome.

“Ordained a priest, he became one of the pope's seven deacons, and also served six years in the East as papal representative in Constantinople. He was recalled to become abbot, and at the age of 50 was elected pope by the clergy and people of Rome.

“He was direct and firm. He removed unworthy priests from office, forbade taking money for many services, emptied the papal treasury to ransom prisoners of the Lombards and to care for persecuted Jews and the victims of plague and famine. He was very concerned about the conversion of England, sending 40 monks from his own monastery. He is known for his reform of the liturgy, for strengthening respect for doctrine. Whether he was largely responsible for the revision of "Gregorian" chant is disputed.

“Gregory lived in a time of perpetual strife with invading Lombards and difficult relations with the East. When Rome itself was under attack, he interviewed the Lombard king.

“An Anglican historian has written: "It is impossible to conceive what would have been the confusion, the lawlessness, the chaotic state of the Middle Ages without the medieval papacy; and of the medieval papacy, the real father is Gregory the Great."

Friday, September 3, 2010

Reading the Catechism

As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve been reading the Catechism during the ten or fifteen minutes before Mass begins and this morning I read section 737, which helped me understand, at a much deeper level, the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives and that of the Church.

Here it is:

“The Holy Spirit and the Church

“737 The mission of Christ and the Holy Spirit is brought to completion in the Church, which is the Body of Christ and the Temple of the Holy Spirit. This joint mission henceforth brings Christ's faithful to share in his communion with the Father in the Holy Spirit. The Spirit prepares men and goes out to them with his grace, in order to draw them to Christ. The Spirit manifests the risen Lord to them, recalls his word to them and opens their minds to the understanding of his Death and Resurrection. He makes present the mystery of Christ, supremely in the Eucharist, in order to reconcile them, to bring them into communion with God, that they may "bear much fruit."

Thursday, September 2, 2010

The Poor and Marginalized

In his Sunday Angelus, the Holy Father talked about Christ’s ministry to them, and the meaning of humility and true giving.

An excerpt.

“In this Sunday's Gospel (Lk 14: 1, 7-14), we find Jesus as a guest dining at the house of a Pharisee leader. Noting that the guests were choosing the best places at table, he recounted a parable in the setting of a marriage feast. "When you are invited by any one to a marriage feast, do not sit down in a place of honour, lest a more eminent man than you be invited by him; and he who invited you both will come, and say to you, "Give place to this man'.... But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place" (Lk 14: 8-10). The Lord does not intend to give a lesson on etiquette or on the hierarchy of the different authorities. Rather, he insists on a crucial point, that of humility: "Every one who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted" (Lk 14: 11). A deeper meaning of this parable also makes us think of the position of the human being in relation to God. The "lowest place" can in fact represent the condition of humanity degraded by sin, a condition from which the Incarnation of the Only-Begotten Son alone can raise it. For this reason Christ himself "took the lowest place in the world the Cross and by this radical humility he redeemed us and constantly comes to our aid" (Encyclical Deus Caritas Est, n. 35).

“At the end of the parable Jesus suggests to the Pharisee leader that he invite to his table not his friends, kinsmen or rich neighbours, but rather poorer and more marginalized people who can in no way reciprocate (cf. Lk 14: 13-14), so that the gift may be given freely. The true reward, in fact, will ultimately be given by God, "who governs the world.... We offer him our service only to the extent that we can, and for as long as he grants us the strength" (Encyclical Deus Caritas Est, n. 35). Once again, therefore, let us look to Christ as a model of humility and of giving freely: let us learn from him patience in temptation, meekness in offence, obedience to God in suffering, in the hope that the One who has invited us will say to us: "Friend, go up higher" (cf. Lk 14: 10). Indeed, the true good is being close to him. St Louis IX, King of France whose Memorial was last Wednesday put into practice what is written in the Book of Sirach: "The greater you are, the more you must humble yourself; so you will find favour in the sight of the Lord" (3: 18). This is what the King wrote in his "Spiritual Testament to his son": "If the Lord grant you some prosperity, not only must you humbly thank him but take care not to become worse by boasting or in any other way, make sure, that is, that you do not come into conflict with God or offend him with his own gifts" (cf. Acta Sanctorum Augusti 5 [1868], 546).

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Facing the Altar Together

Part of what drew us to attend a Latin Mass parish for some time awhile ago, were two major aspects, the mutual facing towards the altar and not performing the disruptive sign of peace, both of which contribute mightily to the individual interiority of the mass as one long prayer.

This article from Insight Scoop addresses one aspect.

An excerpt.

“A few days ago I made some passing remarks about ad orientem, which I did not flesh out for lack of time. Here, then, are some further thoughts—none of them my own, actually—on the topic, drawn from men (all priests, save one) who know far more than I do about the topic.

“Nearly thirty years ago, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, in Feast of Faith: Approaches to a Theology of the Liturgy (Ignatius Press, 1986; German original, 1981. Also available as an e-book), "There is only one inner direction of the Eucharist, namely, from Christ in the Holy Spirit to the Father. The only question is how this can be best expressed in liturgical form" (p. 139). One of his concerns was to address the perception that the priest, celebrating Mass ad orientem, is "facing the wall" or, at best, "facing the tabernacle." This "misunderstanding alone," Ratzinger argued, "can explain the sweeping triumph of the new celebration facing the people, a change that has taken place with amazing unanimity and speed, without any mandate (and perhaps for that very reason!). All this would be inconceivable if it had not been preceded by a prior loss of meaning from within" (p. 142). The general view of the new celebration, he remarked:“is totally determined by the strongly felt community character of the eucharistic celebration, in which people and priest face each other in a dialogue relationship. This does express one aspect of the Eucharist. But the danger is that it can make the congregation into a closed circle which is no longer aware of the explosive trinitarian dynamism which gives the Eucharist its greatness. A truly liturgical education will have to use all its resources to counter this idea of an autonomous, complacent community. The community does not carry on a dialogue with itself; it is engaged on a common journey toward the returning Lord.” (pp. 142-3).

“In The Spirit of the Liturgy (Ignatius Press, 2000), Cardinal Ratzinger was even more direct: “On the other hand, a common turning to the East during the Eucharistic Prayer remains essential. This is not a case of something accidental, but of what is essential. Looking at the priest has no importance. What matters is looking together at the Lord. It is not now a question of dialogue, but of common worship, of setting off towards the One who is to come. What corresponds with the reality of what is happening is not the closed circle, but the common movement forward expressed in a common direction for prayer.”