Saturday, May 31, 2008

Bullets Over Broadway, Detroit

There was a shootout last Sunday night (May 25) just blocks from our apartment down somewhere near the Opera House and YMCA on Broadway. It may be that the fireworks began behind a club known as the "Apartment" at John R and Woodward. I wouldn't know. But rumor has it that the police may be helping to hush up the event to help preserve the reputation of this fair city. Again, I wouldn't know. But here's what a guy under the name of "Postbop" said in a local Detroit online discussion board called "http://www.detroityes.com/"; under the "Discuss Detroit" section and the "Shoot Out on Broadway Last Night?" discussion thread:
Posted on Tuesday, May 27, 2008 - 2:10 pm:

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
This a quote from an email I opened yesterday from a good friend of mine. He lives in the area. I haven't really talked with him further about the incident so I know nothing more than what I am posting.

"This morning at 1:30 am I was awaken by the beautiful sound of causual gunfire outside my window. You know, 25 to 30 rapid shots between oh....4 or 5 friends. Rushing to the window, I see a man curled up, bleeding on the sidewalk by the side of the Boll Family YMCA...the one with the awesome playground where the the kids normally play and scream waking me in the early morning on a good day.

Suspicious enough there is a cop car on the corner and another already pulling up to the scene where about 10 "ganstas" are running out of black SUV's and proceed to carry off Mr. "shit, I'm hit, I'm bleeding!" into a black car which drives off, and then they all casually walk back to thier SUV's sitting in back of the parking lot of my building and drive off unthreatened and unpurseued by those pesky cops. The officers wait for more backup, and when they show up, they all stand around a let about 15 passers by walk and drive across the bloody crime scene as 5 more cars show up.

Sadly, this is not the most messed up thing I have seen since moving to this city 8 years ago, however it is most disturbing to see the people who are supposedly defending me and those I know and love in this city watch and allow things like this to happen. And good to know they spend more time pulling me over on my bicycle for not riding close enough to the pothole and broken glass ridden curb (what a threat, as they could have busted me for speeding). I'm also so sarcastically happy that the Boll Family Y is a great place to have your ganstaland executions. Being late on a weekend night, I could have been walking home from a gig. Thank god I've avoided these dangers one more time.

I called 911 twice in the five minutes following this crime, once to report the shots, another to report the abduction of the shooting victim. As I spoke to the voice on the other side (who was interrupting me "the police are already on it, sir" as I am trying to help them understand their problem) I wondered; If I make a statement, I'll for sure be hassled by the neighbor hood cops, and more than likely by higher powers in this city as well. Why the hell do I live, work and try to make some good light of this withering Ganstaland cestpool, run by people who could give a crap less about me or anyone else who would like to make Detroit better?
Then here's what "Gotdetroit" says a few posts later:
What really bothers me, maybe not the most, but pretty damn close, is the media was completely silent on this. Nothing. I haven't seen word one about it.
Someone who would know said that some of the bits that remained after a guy was filled with bullets remained to be cleaned up by someone in the YMCA days after the event, after parents bringing their children to the 'Y' complained. No place like Detroit: idiot gang bangers shooting it up just blocks from a 'Y' and an opera house.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Abort THIS, Planned Parenthood!

Kellie Coffey, "I Would Die for That" (from the album Walk On). Beautiful.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Your thoughts? '62 Mass with post-'70 innovations?

"The 1962 Mass with Post-1970 Innovations: Is It Likely?" by Charles M. Wilson With additional comments by Philip C.L. Gray, JCL and Duane L.C.M. Galles, JD, JCD.

Excerpts from the beginning and closing of the article:
Pope Benedict XVI has expressed the hope that the ordinary and the extraordinary forms of the Mass will enrich one another in various ways. In his letter that accompanied Summorum Pontificum(SP), the Holy Father suggested, for example,that Propers for new saints and new Prefaces can and should be inserted in the 1962 Missal. He also proposed that the celebrations of the new Mass might incorporate some elements of the old. “The celebration of Mass according to the Missal of Paul VI will be able to demonstrate, more powerfully than has been the case hitherto, the sacrality which attracts many people to the former usage.”

As of this writing, it has been less than four months since SP was released to the public and five weeks since it came into force. So far, there have arisen two concerns that are of interest to the Saint Joseph Foundation. The first is the issue of using various techniques to delay or, if possible, to entirely prevent celebrations of the Traditional Mass. The second is the possibility of vastly diminishing both its benefit to souls and its value as a standard of liturgical expression by introducing practices that have been introduced since Vatican II. Some of these practices began as abuses but became accepted, such as altar girls, and some are still abusive but threaten to become accepted, such as standing for the Eucharistic prayer. This article will deal only with the second concern.

... The title of this article asks if it is likely that problematic liturgical practices will occur in celebrations of the Traditional Mass. My answer is not only is it likely; it is certain. We know that it has already happened. The key question now is, how extensive will it be in the future? We need to be prepared just in case. We will also need the assistance of our readers and other faithful Catholics in reporting specific abuses to us. Much hangs in the balance and the months ahead will be critical. May Saint Joseph be our guide may Saint Michael the Archangel defend us in battle.
[Hat tip to N.M.B.]

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Corruption of youth ("For age 10 and up")


[Parental advisory: The following contains graphic and explicit sexual language.]


"Corruption of youth" was a charge trumped up mendaciously against Socrates. By contrast, it could be leveled without any distortion and with perfect justice against Planned Parenthood.


Most teen abortions don't start when a girl walks into a Planned Parenthood clinic. They start when Planned Parenthood walks into a classroom under the ruse of tax-funded "sex education."

Here are a few chapter titles from a new "sex-ed" book, entitled It's Perfectly Normal, making its rounds under the promotions of Planned Parenthood:
  • "Straight and Gay: Heterosexuality, Homosexuality and Bisexuality"
  • "Perfectly Normal Masturbation"
  • "A Kind of Sharing: Cuddling, Kissing, Touching, and Sexual Intercourse"
Chapter 24 is devoted to Planned Parenthood's specialty: "Abortion."

All 28 chapters of the book are filled with explicit quasi-pornographic illustrations (rejected as inappropriate and pornographic by a Washington State prison) and coarse sexual language:
  • "As the male and female move back and forth in rhythm, the movement of the penis inside the vagina soon feels very good... When these feelings come to a climax, semen is ejaculated from the penis and spurts into the vagina." (From page 56 of It's Perfectly Normal, the children's sex manual promoted by Planned Parenthood.)
  • "Sexual intercourse happens when a female and a male feel very sexy. They want to be very close to each other in a sexual way, so close that the male's penis goes inside the female's vagina." (p. 14)
  • "In all, from front to back, there are three openings between a female's legs; the opening to her uretha, her vagina, and her anus. If a girl or woman is curious about what these openings look like, she can hold a mirror between her legs and take a look." (p. 23)
  • Sexual intercourse -- 'having sex' -- can involve the penis and the vagina, or the mouth and the genitals, or the penis and the anus." (p. 15).
  • "Some people call an erection a 'hard-on' or 'boner' even though there are no bones in the penis." (p. 37)
  • Some people disapprove of gay men and lesbian women. Usually those people know little or nothing about homosexuals, and their views are often based on fears or misinformation, not on facts." (pp. 17-18).
From here it goes only downhill, including a "how to" section on masturbation with pictures of male and female. For further details, if you want them, check out "Sex Book For Children" (YouTube, A.L.L. Report). The report ends by declaring that Planned Parenthood should be charged with the distribution of pornography to minors.

Monday, May 26, 2008

The best of times, the worst of times

As we approach the first anniversary of Pope Benedict XVI's motu proprio, Summorum Pontificum, this July, it is worth considering what has been happening in various parishes and dioceses around the country. Predictably, the results are mixed, as I have heard even from some of you. In my previous Diocese of Charlotte, NC, there has been a marked turnabout, with the Tridentine Mass now offered in a number of different venues. This would have been unthinkable just a year ago. Detroit, where I now live, had an Indult Mass at St. Josaphat since October of 2004 with Auxillary Bishop Boyea celebrating his first Tridentine Mass there in December of that year. Since Summorum Pontificum, a number of different parishes in the greater Detroit area have begun offering the Latin Rite in its Extraordinary form.

One of the most interesting ways of assessing the responses to Summorum Pontificum is to read letters to the editor of various periodicals. Here are some excerpts from a few recent letters to the May 2008 issue of the New Oxford Review:
1. "When Pope Benedict's motu proprio liberating the Tridentine Latin Mass was released, [my] pastor wrote in his parish bulletin that he was 'very saddened by this development.' It is true, he says that the Tridentine Mass was 'celebrated and venerated for many, many years.' But that Mass 'belongs to a different era," and 'by the mid-20th Century it was getting old and crusty.' The Tridentine Mass, he says, 'reflects a time when the Mass "belonged" to the priest. The people were the audience,' and their attitude then was to 'sit back and relax and let daddy do it all.'" (Holyoke, Massachusetts)

2. "'Don't go to the Latin Mass!' Those were the words I heard from my local Catholic priest. Instead, he said, 'God to the Spanish Mass.' He made be feel like I should avoid the Tridentine Latin Mass like the plague." (Lexington, Kentucky)

3. "Here in the Archdiocese of San Antonio, we have had a glorious transformation. The Traditional Latin Mass has not been very well viewed, over the past 35 years, by a presbyterate very suspicious and critical of things traditional.

"... Then, on the Second Sunday of Lent (Feb. 17), Fr. Francis McHugh, pastor of St. Pius X Catholic Church in the Archdiocese of San Antonio, invited us to have an inaugural Mass at his parish near Fort Sam Houston. What a miracle, considering no pastor had before even hinted at being sympathetic to the Traditional Latin Mass!

"Here's where it gets phenomenal and almost unbelievable in a religious climate that can only be described as hostile to the Traditional Latin Mass. He agreed to move an existing 12:15 PM Novus Ordo Mass to the 5:30 PM time slot. He allowed the Traditional Latin Mass to be moved to 12 noon to better suit the priest saying the Mass. He allowed a communion rail to be constructed. He allowed the high altar to be reconstructed and enlarged. Finally, he asked that the Traditional Latin Mass be said on First Fridays as well, so that the schoolchildren could be exposed to it!

"The inaugural 12 noon High Mass attracted nearly 600 people to a church that seats 650. The collection was nearly double what the 12:15 PM Novus Ordo Mass had previously averaged. The Traditional Latin Mass, over ensuing weeks, has averaged around 400 people every Sunday, and the collection continues to exceed the previous 12:15 PM Novus Ordo Mass average.

"St. Pius X now has a Wednesday 7 AM Traditional Mass attended by about 40 people, and a Saturday 8 AM Mass attended by about 80 people. The inaugural 8 AM First Friday Mass of March 7 (Feast of St. Thomas Aquinas, patron of Catholic schools, according to the traditional calendar) had about 300 students and about 300 family members and parishioners present.

"The Most Rev. Jose Gomez, our Archbishop, and Fr. Francis McHugh deserve a huge deal of credit for ... allowing the Traditional Latin Mass into the mainstream of Catholic life here in San Antonio." (San Antonio, Texas)

4. "I am not awestruck by the Tridentine Latin Mass, based on my experience with it early on in life. I find I can be just as intimately joined to our Blessed Lord in the vernacular New Mass, and I enjoy the greater participation of the congregation." (New Rochelle, New York)

5. "[Mr. __________](letter, Dec. 2007) claims that there is "much to be said for" the Novus Ordo Mass because of its "increased emphasis on sacred Scripture." ... However, the prevalence of lectors who are ineffective ..., the unavailability of printed missals in many parishes, and lame New American Bible translations at the Novus Ordo do little to enhance the meditative experience offered by these extra passages.

"More important is what was left out. For example, there is virtually no mention of the 'Divine Majesty,' with which the Tridentine Mass is liberally sprinkled. Also ignored is the fact that most of the "unnecessary" short prayers of the Tridentine Mass that were eliminated in the Novus Ordo appear for the most part to be taken from sacred Scripture, typically from the Psalms. Virtual elimination of the Lavabo, which probably was recited by priests of the Old Testament before performing a sacrificial act, is a case in point. Throwing out the beautiful and very Catholic Last Gospel of St. John is another poignant example.

"The Novus Ordo Mass is valid, but its usefulness as a teaching instrument is questionable: combine the above-mentioned problems with elimination of the communion rail in most churches and one cannot help but wonder if the Novus Ordo is not merely beyond banality, but was designed by its perpetrators to undermine fundamental Catholic belief." (Crescent City, California)
Without comment ...

[Acknowledgement: "To the Editor," New Oxford Review (May 2008), pp. 10-13; with a tip of the hat to the Editor.]

Sunday, May 25, 2008

The hazards of nuance

1. Pope Pius XII, "Mystici Corporis" (1943):
The "true Church of Jesus Christ ... is the One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic and Roman Church." [Litt. Enc. Mystici Corporis Christi, A.A.S., vol. XXXV, p. 193 sq.; citing Vat. Council, Const. de Eccl., Const. de fide cath., c. 1.; emphasis added.]
2. Pope Pius XII, "Instruction on the Ecumenical Movement" (1949):
"[The Bishops] must restrain that dangerous manner of speaking which generates false opinions and fallacious hopes incapable of realization; for example, to the effect that the teachings of the Encyclicals of the Roman Pontiffs on the return of dissidents to the Church, on the constitution of the Church, on the Mystical Body of Christ, should not be given too much importance seeing that they are not all matters of faith, or, what is worse, that in matters of dogma even the Catholic Church has not yet attained the fullness of Christ, but can still be perfected from outside. . . .

Therefore the whole and entire Catholic doctrine is to be presented and explained: by no means is it permitted to pass over in silence or to veil in ambiguous terms the Catholic truth regarding ... the constitution of the Church, the primacy of jurisdiction of the Roman Pontiff, and the only true union by the return of the dissidents to the one true Church of Christ." [emphasis added]
3. Pope Pius XII, "Humani Generis" (1950):
". . . the Mystical Body of Christ and the Roman Catholic Church are one and the same thing." [para. 27; emphasis added.]
4. Vatican II Dogmatic Constitution on the "Lumen Gentium," promulgated by Pope Paul VI (1964):
"[The] Church constituted and organized in the world as a society, subsists in the Catholic Church, which is governed by the successor of Peter and by the Bishops in communion with him . . ." [para. 8, citing: Pius XII, Const. Apost. Munificentissimus, 1 no. 1950: AAS 42 (1950) ú Denz. 2333 (3903). Cfr. S. Io. Damascenus, Enc. in dorm. Dei gcnitricis, Hom. 2 et 3: PG 96, 721-761, speciatim col. 728 B. - S. Germanus Constantinop., in S. Dei gen. dorm. Serm. 1: PG 98 (6), 340-348; Serm. 3: col. 361. - S. Modestus Hier., In dorm. SS. Deiparae: PG 86 (2), 3277-3312; emphasis added.]
5. Avery Cardinal Dulles, Vatican III: The Work That Needs to Be Done, ed. by David Tracy with Hans Kueng and Johann Metz (New York: Concilium, Seabury Press, 1978):
"The Church of Jesus Christ is not exclusively identical to the Roman Catholic Church. It does indeed subsist in Roman Catholicism, but it is also present in varying modes and degrees in other Christian dommunities to the extent that they too are what God initiated in Jesus and are obedient to the inspirations of Christ's Spirit. As a result of their common sharing in the reality of the one Church, the several Christian communities already have with one another a real but imperfect communion." [p. 91; emphasis added.]
6. Congretation for the Doctrine of the Fatih, "Responses to Some Questions Regarding Certain Aspects of the Doctrine on the Church" (June 29, 2007):
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' . . ."

". . . ‘subsistence’ means this perduring, historical continuity and the permanence of all the elements instituted by Christ in the Catholic Church . . ."

"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. . . ."

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.'" [Lumen Gentium, 8.2]

"'It follows that these separated churches and Communities, 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'" [Second Vatican Council, Decree Unitatis redintegratio, 3.4.].
It's one thing to be accurate in every minute detail. It's another thing to be clear and avoid confusing the faithful. The two are not always comfortable bedfellows.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Before modern abortion: the brutal history of Kokeshi dolls

A friend recently sent me the link to Christopher Price's essay, "Pagans, Christianity, and Infanticide" (2004). The article got me thinking about the meaning of the Kokeshi dolls I saw in Japan where I grew up. But more on that connection later.

Price's essay begins like this:
The history of infanticide is gruesome. As hard as it may be to imagine today, throughout history infanticide was a common and endorsed practice. While it undoubtedly still occurs today, all governments outlaw it. And in the West at least, society and culture condemn it. So how did we get from there to here? From having Western societies that condoned and encouraged infanticide to having a Western society that condemns and discourages infanticide?

The short answer: Christianity.
How many people know that infanticide was defended by Plato, Aristotle, and Cicero; that Tacitus condemned as "sinister and revolting" the Jewish condemnation of the practice; or that Seneca, otherwise known for his high morals, stated "we drown children at birth who are weakly and abnormal"? The practice of snuffing out the lives of unwanted infants was apparently ubiquitous in all well-studied ancient cultures, including those of Greece, Rome, India, China and Japan. Which brings me to Japan.

One thing I very clearly remember from growing up in Japan is the presence of Kokeshi dolls, which I remember seeing in many homes as well as for sale in stores. Kokeshi dolls are native to the northern part of Japan (Tohoku), and seemed to be ubiquitous in the northermost island of Hokkaido where I spent my first sixteen years. I remember handling these dolls myself, and the smooth feel of the wood (often bamboo) from which they were crafted. I never gave them much thought while growing up. They simply seemed to be part of the environment in a culture that produced many other things of that sort.

But when I was older, I remember the name "Kokeshi" once caught me up short. In the Japanese language, different phonemes (phonetic parts of words) can have a variety of different meanings and accordingly be represented by a variety of different Chinese characters. I had never thought about it before, but "Kokeshi" could could carry several different meanings, because the word is usually written, not in Kanji (Chinese characters, which carry their own independent meaning, regardless of how they are pronounced), but in Hiragana (one of the two phonetic syllabaries, which indicate the pronunciation of the word, but not its meaning). Thus, if the term were to be represented in Kanji, it could be written 小芥子 (meaning "small poppy" or "small mustard seed"). But it could also be represented by 子消し, in which case the first phoneme ("Ko") signifies "child," and the second ("keshi"), signifies "erasure" (as in the Japanese compound 消去, meaning "elimination").

The significance later became clear when I learned that Kokeshi dolls were often used traditionally as representations of infants who had been disposed of by infanticide -- usually by abandoning them in the mountains. In Alan Booth's book, Looking for the Lost: Journeys Through a Vanishing Japan (Kodansha America, 1995), one reads the following (p. 129ff.):
Few Japanese people have any notion of where kokeshi came from or what they might originally have been used for, nor have they given the matter much thought. Partly this is because, like nebuta, the word kokeshi is usually written not with ideograms [i.e., Chinese characters, or Kanji] but in the purely phonetic syllabary called Hiragana, so it is difficult to deduce an ethymology. Ko, for instance, might mean "small" and keshi might mean "poppy," in which case the curators of Japan's doll museums would all be bouncing with joy. But it strikes me as more likely that the word is an amalgam of a different ko, meaning "child," and kesu, meaning "get rid of," and that these cute, tender-faced little dolls, made from simple pieces of wood, a sphere for the head and a cylinder for the body, may in origin have been fetish substitutes for children murdered at birth.

Infanticide was not an uncommon practice in rural Japan during the feudal period and it survived here and there into quite recent times. The American historian Thomas C. Smith suggest that, in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries at least, it was practised in Japan "less as a desperate act in the face of poverty than as a form of family planning." In the towns, abortion was the commonest form of family planning (and, as the Japanese government persists to this day in refusing to permit the sale of oral contraceptives, it remains widely and lucratively practised). But in rural areas, though officially prohibited by most clan governments, infanticide was the preferred choice. Moral questions aside, the killing of newborn babies rather than fetuses has the practical advantage of allowing a family -- or a village -- to exert a precise control over the ratio of the sexes, and it appears that, unlike in China and some parts of Asia, the horror was not directed wholly, or even mainly, against female babies, but was used coolly and even-handedly to construct a gender balance that would ensure the continuance and stability of the group.

According to Mrs. Suzuki Fumi, born in 1898 in Ibaragi prefecture, not far north of Tokyo, and recorded on tape by the local doctor for a book of reminiscences called Memories of Silk and Straw, "'thinning out' babies was pretty common" even at the time of her own birth. "It was considered bad luck to have twins," she explains, "so you got rid of one before your neighbours found out. Deformed babies were also bumped off. And if you wanted a boy but the baby was a girl, you'd make it 'a day visitor.'" The murder was often entrusted to the midwife. "Killing off a newborn baby was a simple enough business," Mrs. Suzuki remembers. "You just moistened a piece of paper with spittle and put it over the baby's nose and mouth; in no time at all it would stop breathing." But there were alternative methods, and another of Dr. Saga's informants, Mrs. Terakako Tai, born in 1899, describes two of them. One was "to press on their chest with your knee." Another was called usugoro (mortar killing), in which the murderer was usually the mother herself: "The woman went alone into one of the buildings outside and had the baby lying on a straw mat. She wrapped the thing in two straw sacks lids, tied it up with rope and laid it on the mat. She then rolled a heavy wooden mortar over it. When the baby was dead, she took it outside and buried it herself. And the next day she was expected to be up at the crack of dawn as usual, doing the housework and helping in the fields...."
Bearing in mind the fact that Kokeshi dolls have no arms or legs, Booth observes:
"The absence of limbs might be disquieting, I suppose, if you had made the possible connection between kokeshi and child murder and had read Mrs. Suzuki's account of a midwife's attempt to quicken death by wrapping an infant tightly in rags so that its arms were bound invisibly to its sides, or if you knew that one of the traditional attributes of Japanese ghosts is that they have no feet."

Unnatural natural death

My father has aspiration pneumonia, a pathology caused by a calcium growth in the back of his throat that prevents food from properly descending his esophagus. The infection in his lungs causes fluid buildup. For the past several months, the doctors have been successful in combating the pneumonia with antibiotics and draining the fluid from his lungs. Recently the doctors proposed the option of a feeding tube, to avoid the problem of aspirating his food into his lungs. However, my father is no longer responding to antibiotics intended to fight his pneumonia. Hence, the feeding tube has been abandoned and he is being kept on an IV with the expectation of increasingly rapid, inevitable decline and death.

What has particularly impressed me about my father is how determinedly he has fought and resisted dying, even when his body has failed him, and even though I can think of few people less prepared in their own minds to meed their Maker. I suppose many would say that this is natural, that it's human nature to wish to struggle and survive. True. Yet I can remember many others who have welcomed their deaths; some, in fact, who seemed to long for it.

The Catholic Church teaches that life is sacred from the moment of conception to "natural death." In one sense of the word, death is perfectly "natural." One has a "natural" lifespan, and when that is over, one "naturally" dies. Not only is death the "natural" terminus of one's biological life span; it is also the portal through which those redeemed by Christ -- those who are baptized into His death -- are raised to enter eternal life. In this sense, there is nothing wrong with looking forward to death. St. Francis of Assisi spoke endearingly of "Sister death." One of the most beautiful choral works of Johann Sebastian Bach is entitled "Come, Sweet Death."

Yet there is a sense in which death is profoundly "unnatural." Death was never intended to be a part of God's perfect creation. In that sense, death is not normative. It is not normal. By the same token, it is not "natural." One thinks of Christ before the tomb of his deceased friend, Lazarus. Everyone who knows that the shortest verse in the Bible is "Jesus wept," knows the context: Jesus wept at the tomb of his friend because he was dead. Those who know the Greek will understand that there is a trace of anger in the response of Jesus, which led to him miraculously calling forth Lazarus from his tomb to new life. Both the tears and anger of Jesus attest to the ultimate abnormality and unnaturalness of death.

One sense of the word "natural" assumes man's fallen condition as normative; the other assumes man's pre-lapsarian condition as normative. One view welcomes death as as natural conclusion and transition. Another, without denying these facts, resists death as an unnatural evil. One thinks of Dylan Thomas: "Do not go gentle into that good night ... Rage, rage, against the dying of the light." Both responses are, perhaps, "natural."

I solicit your continue prayers for my father.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Pro-choice for me, no-choice for you

Liberals pride themselves on being ... well, liberal. The word has positive connotations: liberty, liberality, liberation. They pride themselves also on being open-minded, flexible, and pro-choice. Let people decide according to their personal preferences -- what a grand notion!

So, should students with moral objections to abortion be obliged to contribute to abortion insurance as part of their school plan? This is an issue that's been heating up at Harvard (see "Opt Out Fee for Abortion Urged," The Harvard Crimson, May 14, 2008):
In the past two weeks, Harvard students opened their mailboxes to find a blue "opt-out" card as part of the Abortion Opt-Out Campaign of Harvard Right to Life (HRL). The initiative allows students to request a refund of the part of their Blue Cross Blue Shield health insurance plan that funds elective abortions -- one dollar per term.
So what do you call yourselves if you believe your peers should be forced, against their moral convictions, to contribute to the subvention of homicide?
For lots of students, the ability to obtain refunds from insurance due to moral convictions is troubling. Sean P. Mascali '08, president of Students for Choice, said he thinks that students should not have this right.
Indeed: Students for Choice.

[Acknowledgement: Diogenes, "Liberties" (Off the Record, CWN, May 18, 2008), via E.E.]

Of related interest
J.L. Talmon, Origins of Totalitarian Democracy (W.W. Norton, 1970).

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Papal reinforcement

The day after the May 15 ruling by the California Supreme Court that struck down the state's ban on same-sex marriage, the Pope weighed in to condemn the ruling. He firmly restated the Roman Catholic Church's position that only unions between a man and a woman are moral ("Pope restates gay marriage ban after California vote," Reuters, May 16, 2008).

To his credit, San Francisco Arshbishop Niederauer, too, condemned the ruling. Yet his carefully measured words carried all the impact of a wet noodle: "This action challenges those in society who believe in the importance of the traditional understanding of marriage to deepen their witness to the unique and essential role that marriage between a man and a woman has in the life of society," Archbishop Niederauer said (CNS, May 16, 2008). "... challenges ... those who believe ..."? Come on. Would you have caught the Prophet Elijah on Mt. Carmel hedging his denunciations of the Prophets of Baal with such veiled appeals to pluralism?

We need to pray for Archbishop Niederauer and many others clerics like him. Niederauer, you may recall, declared that he found the gay propaganda film Brokeback Mountain "very powerful." He was infamously caught on video giving Communion to gay men dressed as nuns. You may remember how he implausibly declared that he didn't know Nancy Pelosi's stand on abortion. You may also recall how his appointment as the archbishop of San Francisco was cheered by homosexual activists. See also Dale Vree's resume of the Archbishop's administration in San Francisco.

The inordinate desire to be liked, the desire to avoid being tarred as "politically incorrect," the desire to avoid alienating dissidents lies close to the root of the weakness in the Catholic hierarchy. It is this very disposition, unfortunately, which wittingly or unwittingly aids and abets the flaming homosexualist dissent of clerics like Fr. Joseph O'Leary.

The difference a good Archbishop can make

Tim Townsend, "Burke's efforts lead to biggest Catholic ordination class in decades" (St. Louis Dispatch, May 18, 2008): The student body at Kenrick-Glennon Seminary, which includes the undergraduate Cardinal Glennon College and graduate-level Kenrick Theological Seminary, is now 112 students, the largest enrollment in two decades and a 50 percent increase over last year. This past Saturday, nine seminarians were ordained as priests in the St. Louis Archdiocese -- the largest St. Louis ordination class in 25 years and one of the largest in the U.S. This is as many ordinations as St. Louis has had in the past three years combined.

The man behind this upsurge is Archbishop Raymond Burke, who decided vocations would be a high priority since he arrived in St. Louis in 2004. Last year, the archdiocese announced plans to expand the seminary. The archdiocese officially attributes its recent success with vocations to the Holy Spirit. But anyone who looks beneath these significant changes will not be able to ignore the singular Archbishop Burke. For instance, how many archbishops take this much personal interest in their seminarians and their vocations?
Once or twice a year, each student at Kenrick-Glennon Seminary will drop by Archbishop Raymond Burke's residence in the Central West End at 4:30 p.m. From there, they set off down Lindell Avenue and into Forest Park.

"The walks," as the seminarians call them, are opportunities for young men to have heart-to-hearts with a man who regularly meets with the pope, a heady prospect for a young priest-in-training. The conversations are usually casual, and the seminarians get to see a more personal, human side of Burke — like when he gets a little skittish around off-leash dogs.

Kenrick officials organize the walks using time sheets. When the sheets are posted, there's a rush to sign on.

"It's like when you throw pellets at the Japanese fish at the Botanical Gardens," said seminarian Edward Nemeth, 26. "Guys falling over each other to get their names on the list."

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Foreclosure of homes and philosophy departments

Homes are being foreclosed at a fearsome rate these days, and it begins to look as though academic departments and programs are a similarly endangered species. I wrote a couple of weeks ago about the termination of the German Department at the University of Southern California, and on May 5, I noticed in The Chronicle that the University of Florida was terminating its doctoral program in Philosophy.

The university, confronting a substantial cutback in state appropriations, has announced that it will lay off 20 faculty members, among other steps, to reduce costs for FY2008-9. As part of this retrenchment, President Bernie Machen has also proposed reducing undergraduate enrollment and cutting back on research expenditures, as well as eliminating some degree programs.

I gather that other Florida universities are reacting similarly to dire state budgetary situations. Many states are experiencing exactly the same financial difficulties, and passing through their problems to public institutions of higher education.
Source: Stan Katz, "The Unity of Philosophy" (The Chronicle Review, May 14, 2008).

[Hat tip to E.F.]

Saturday, May 17, 2008

25 years of Catholic lay preaching

Ginny Untiedt preaches for the last time at St. Joseph in New Hope May 4. In January, Archbishop Harry Flynn asked parishes with lay preachers to end the practice by his retirement, which was May 2.
Father Terry Rassmussen, pastor of St. Joseph in New Hope, finished reading, closed the Book of the Gospels, and stepped away from the ambo. From the congregation, Ginny Untiedt stepped forward.

Clad in a white robe, Untiedt bowed as Father Rassmussen laid his hands on her head and blessed her. She looked up, walked to the ambo and began preaching for the last time.

As many as 29 parishes in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis have used lay preachers at Mass during the past 25 years. In January, however, Archbishop Harry Flynn instructed pastors to discontinue the practice. He gave his retirement date - May 2 - as the time by which parishes should develop "a pastoral plan" to end lay preaching at Mass.

... Archbishop Flynn told The Catholic Spirit he was aware of a few parishes practicing lay preaching and that local leaders in the lay preaching movement were aware of his disapproval. He wrote the January letter only after becoming aware that the number of parishes with lay preachers was larger than he realized, he said. (emphasis added)
Source: Maria Wiering, "Directive from Archbishop Flynn ends lay preaching at Mass" (The Catholic Spirit, May 7, 2008).

What was that title, again, by Fr. Thomas J. Reese, S.J.? Oh, yes: A Flock of Shepherds: The National Conference of Catholic Bishops (Sheed & Ward, 1992).

Viaticum

Viaticum refers to Holy Communion administered to a dying person during last rites. The word derives from the Latin, meaning "provisions for a journey." My father is approaching his last journey sometime in the near future -- it is hard to say exactly when. He is now facing the indignity of being put on a feeding tube. He has prepared as best he can for his journey. I know this from conversations we have had, both from when I was in Iowa with him on a recent visit, and from recent phone conversations. We talked about the recent earthquake in Chengdu, Sichuan, China, where I was born, and other natural disasters recently in the news. He understands these, along with all the evils that abound today, what with "nation rising against nation" and the like, as the "birth pangs" preceding the end of the age, mentioned in Mark 13:8. He said he didn't know how a person could navigate such times without knowing the love of Christ. I agreed and told him that he had given me the most precious gift any father could give a son: the knowledge of Christ.

I recently emailed a friend, asking for his prayers for my father. He replied with the following touching anecdote:
Dear Philip:

When Msgr. Ronald Knox was in his last illness, he visited his devoted student, Harold Macmillan at No. 10 Downing St. In his typical diffidence he announced: "I expect I'll be going on a long journey." And the Prime Minister replied: "But Ronnie, you are so very well prepared for it."

You and your father are in my prayers,

Kind regards, T.
My thanks to each and every one of you willing to remember my father in your prayers.

USCCB: pro-life without quite being pro-life

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) approved a new document on November 14, 2007, to guide Catholic voters in the upcoming elections. Entitled "Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship: A Call to Political Responsibility from the Catholic Bishops of the United States" [PDF], and -- with 43 pages containing 90 sections -- is as long and verbose as its title.

Dale Vree, commenting on the document back in February ("A Perplexing Political Potpourri," New Oxford Review, Feb., 2008), wrote: "As can be expected from a document approved by the full body of the USCCB -- liberals, moderates, and conservatives -- by a margin of 221-4, it runs all over the map, touches on myriad topics, and suffers from information overload -- no easy accomplishment in our information era." More to the point, he adds: "What makes this document so maddening is that it buries the burning political issues of the day under an avalanche of lesser considerations."

Again, in the current issue of NOR, Vree continues his observations ("Muddier Waters," NOR, May 2008):
One of the more peculiar aspects of that dense document is its suggestion that voting for pro-abortion candidates puts a Catholic's eternal salvation in jeopardy. In section 22, the document states, "Intrinsically evil actions ... must always be rejected and opposed and must never be supported or condoned. A prime example is the intentional taking of innocent human life, as in abortion...." Section 34 states, "A Catholic cannot vote for a candidate who takes a position in favor of an intrinsic evil such as abortion." Section 37 states, "It is important to be clear that the political choices faced by citizens not only have an impact on general peace and prosperity but also may affect the individual's salvation." One can easily come to the conclusion that voting in favor of abortion places one's eternal salvation in jeopardy.

But then the document declares, "There may be times when a Catholic who rejects a candidate's unacceptable position may decide to vote for that candidate for other morally grave reasons" (#35). And, "The voter may decide...to vote for the candidate deemed less likely to advance such a morally flawed position" (#36). But isn't this the very cooperation with evil that would place one's salvation in jeopardy, especially if the "position" in question is abortion? The document neglects to provide an answer. Beyond the one mention, it is silent about how voting affects one's salvation.
Vree then relates how John L. Allen Jr., the well-known reporter for National Catholic Distorter, caught up with Wilton Gregory, Archbishop of Atlanta and former USCCB president, at the USCCB's annual Social Ministry Gathering in Washington, D.C., on February 26. Archbishop Gregory, he says, was good enough to take a moment to clarify this aspect of the USCCB document. According to Allen (National Catholic Distorter, Feb. 26), Archbishop Gregory "said that it was not the intent of the U.S. bishops in their recent 'Faithful Citizenship' document to suggest that Catholics who vote for a pro-choice candidate are automatically placing their salvation in jeopardy."

What?? Then what did they mean in section 37 when they declared that the political choices faced by citizens "may affect the individual's salvation"? What part of the mass murder of over 50 million preborn babies in the U.S. since 1973 is unclear in being an "intrinsic evil" that "must never be supported"? Evidently, as Vree says, it depends on what your definition of "never" is:
"Defending the right to life is obviously a primary concern," Archbishop Gregory told Allen. "It's the point of departure for everything else." But, said Archbishop Gregory, it is "at least possible" that, as Allen put it, "a Catholic who carefully weighs the issues could decide that, on balance, a candidate who is not explicitly pro-life is preferable to one who opposes the legalization of abortion but who does not share Catholic positions on other matters of importance. In that sense, Gregory said, 'Faithful Citizenship' cannot be reduced to an absolute obligation to vote for a pro-life candidate...."

"Faithful Citizenship" itself states that "A Catholic cannot vote for a candidate who takes a position in favor of an intrinsic evil such as abortion..." (#34; italics added). But now Archbishop Gregory is saying that there is no "absolute obligation" to vote for prolife candidates. How are voters supposed to make sense of this? Can you help us out here, Your Excellency?

"It's a complicated document," he told Allen.
Indeed. And that, my friends, is the problem. You cannot expect a 43-page document, which tries to blow hot and cold at once and qualifies to death every position it takes, to offer much guidance to a Catholic voter who will be voting simply up or down for the President in November.

Concern for Dale Price's health

I just learned about the prayer request for Dale Price offered by his wife Heather because of some concerns apparently related to possible heart problems. After a brief hospitalization, however, he's now back home with another appointment in late May and probably surgery sometime beyond that. Keep our friend Dale in your prayers.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Two confusions about homosexuality

One of the most common confusions about homosexuality among Catholics today is the assumption that Church teaching condemns homosexual acts but finds nothing wrong with homosexual inclinations. This confusion has led many Catholics, even priests and bishops, to suggest that, as long as one does not act upon it, a homosexual disposition is perfectly acceptable, even a "gift" from God. But this is sadly misleading. It is true that a person is not culpable for a sinful inclination to which he does not consent. For example, there is nothing wrong with a man feeling sexual attraction for a woman provided he does not act on it outside of marriage. But this is not to say that the Church finds nothing wrong with homosexual inclinations, even if a person is innocent of acting upon them. The problem is that not all inclinations are natural and right. Some clearly are. God created men to be attracted by women, and vice versa; and configured their anatomical parts for one another in an obviously natural way. But not all inclinations and dispositions are natural and right. The inclination to autoerotic self-arousal, for example, is a perversion of nature. So also with homosexual inclinations. It is not merely that "homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered," as the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches (CCC 2357); rather, it is that the homosexual inclination iteself is "objectively disordered" (CCC 2358, emphasis added). If a man feels attracted to a woman, this is natural. It's how he was meant to respond. If he feels attracted sexually by another man, this is contrary to nature and a profound burden and constitutes for most homosexuals "a trial" (CCC 2358). There is nothing cruel or harsh about this observation. The Catechism says that such individuals must be "accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity" (Ibid.), yet also insists that they, like all of us, are called to "chastity," self-mastery," and "inner freedom" (CCC 2359).

A second confusion concerns the relation of the positions of the Bible and the Church on homosexuality to other moral and social questions such as slavery, usury, polygamy, etc. The assumption here, often promoted by revisionists under the guise of "doctrinal development," is that the position of the Bible and the Church on various moral and social issues has never been immutable or absolute, but has changed over time. For example, polygamy was permitted in the Old Testament, but has been forbidden since apostolic times; slavery was permitted in the Old Testament, but not condemned by the Church until modern times; usury was forbidden by the Church in the Middle Ages, but has been permitted in modern times. It is in light of this growing evolution and maturation of the mind of the Church on such matters that our understanding of the permissibility of homosexuality today must be assessed.

Let us examine this hypothesis by taking the example of slavery. There are several reasons why slavery is not a good analogy for the homosexuality debate.1

First, there is no Scriptural mandate for slavery, that is, no commandment to enslave others, nor is there is a penalty for releasing slaves. Rather, the Old Testament merely tolerates a kind of slavery as a given social institution and regulates it without approving it. What kind of slavery was actually being regulated? The enslaving of prisoners of war, of criminals, of people who sold themselves into slavery as a last-ditch way to avoid starvation2, or to advance their careers was permitted and regulated. As to regulating it, Robert J. Hutchinson writes, “while in the Code of Hammurabi anyone who harbors a runaway slave is to be put to death, the Old Testament law actually commands that such slaves be given refuge: “You shall not turn over a slave [who has escaped] to his master. He shall dwell with you in your midst . . . you must not ill-treat him” (Dt 23: 16-17). Not only that, but anyone who abducts someone and sells him or her into slavery—as the brothers of Joseph did in Genesis or the slave traders of the eighteenth century did—was to be put to death” (Ex 21: 16). “What’s more,” adds Hutchinson, “when a Hebrew ‘slave’ was freed, the Bible says, ‘you shall not send him away empty-handed, but shall weigh him down with gifts from your flock and threshing floor and wine press, in proportion to the blessings the Lord, your God, has bestowed upon you. For remember that you too were once slaves in the land of Egypt, and the Lord, your God, ransomed you” (Dt 15:13-15).3

By contrast, there is a Scriptural mandate, in the Old and New Testament, to limit sexual unions to heterosexual ones. In addition there is a severe penalty having to do with a person’s eternal standing before God or entrance into his Kingdom. “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Stop deceiving yourselves: Neither sexually immoral persons [pornoi, i.e., like the incestuous man], nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor ‘soft men’ [malakoi, i.e., men who feminize themselves to attract male sex partners], nor men who lie with a male [arsenokoitai, a term formed from the Levitical prohibition of male homosexual practice] . . . shall inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Cor 6:9-10).

Second, slavery is not divinely instituted, a structure or mandate of creation, in short, a God-ordained social arrangement. By contrast, the institutions of civil authority, marital and parental relations are divinely instituted, creation structures. The latter are God-ordained, roles are divinely specified, and conduct is regulated. In particular, the biblical authors throughout the Scripture viewed heterosexual unions as normative structures of creation that are transculturally valid.

Third, there is tension within the biblical canon itself on the issue of slavery, which is evident from the trajectory within the Bible itself that critiques slavery. As Gagnon summarizes this point, “We can discern a trajectory within the Bible that critiques slavery. Central in Israelite memory was the remembrance of God’s liberation from slavery in Egypt (e.g. Exod 22:21; 23:9; Lev 25:42, 55; Deut 15:15).[4] Christian memory adds the paradigmatic event of Christ’s redemption of believers from slavery to sin and people (e.g., 1 Cor 6: 20; 7: 23). Israelite law put various restrictions on enslaving fellow Israelites—even insisting that Israelites not be treated as slaves—while Paul regarded liberation from slavery as a penultimate good (1 Cor 7: 21-23; Phlm 16).” By contrast, adds Gagnon, “While Scripture shows unease with the institution of slavery, the only discomfort it shows toward same-sex intercourse is with the commission of the act, not with its proscription.”5

Fourth, the Scripture is a countercultural witness regarding slavery, rather than a willing supporter. Its position is liberal and liberating by contrast to the ancient cultural norm. “The Bible’s stance on same-sex intercourse moved in the opposite direction, against any accommodation. Simply put, Scripture nowhere expresses a vested interest in preserving slavery, whereas Scripture does express a vested interest in requiring a male-female dynamic in sexual relationships.”6 In sum, “Scripture itself does not provide the kind of clear and unequivocal witness for slavery that it exhibits against same-sex intercourse.”7

Notes

  1. Here I follow a terse summary of Robert A. J. Gagnon’s argument in The Bible and Homosexual Practice: texts and Hermeneutics from an unpublished manuscript by a colleague. On the question whether slavery is a good parallel for the homosexuality debate, see Gagnon, The Bible and Homosexual Practice, pp. 443-448. See also, Dan O. Via & Robert A. J. Gagnon, Homosexuality and the Bible: Two Views (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003). Gagnon develops his argument against several analogies in this more recent book: Gentile inclusion, slavery, women in ministry, divorce and remarriage (pp. 42-47). See also, Thomas E. Schmidt, Straight & Narrow: Compassion & Clarity in the Homosexuality Debate (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1995); and Christian Anthropology and Homosexuality, Edited by Mario Agnes, L’Osservatore Romano Reprints, Vatican City, 1997). [back]


  2. On this, see Lev. 25: 39, “If one of your countrymen becomes poor among you and sells himself to you, do not make him work as a slave. He is to be treated as a hired worker or a temporary resident among you; he is to work for you until the Year of Jubilee. Then he and his children are to be released, and he will go back to his own clan and to the property of his forefathers. Because the Israelites are my servants, whom I brought out of Egypt, they must not be sold as slaves. Do not rule over them ruthlessly, but fear your God.” [back]


  3. All the quotes in this paragraph are from Robert J. Hutchinson, The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Bible (Washington, DC: Regnery, 2007), pp. 162-164. See also, Benedict M. Ashley, OP, Living the Truth in Love (New York: Alba House, 1996), pp. 290-293. [back]


  4. Hutchinson, The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Bible, “[T]he overarching theme that runs throughout the Hebrew Bible—from the Torah through the Deuteronomic History and the prophets—concerns how God ransomed the children of Israel from slavery in Egypt. Over and over again, the Hebrew Bible insists that Israelites must not mistreat their avadim (servants/slaves) because ‘you were once slaves [avadim] in the land of Egypt’” (p. 165). [back]


  5. The apt phrase (“trajectory of critique”) is borrowed from Gagnon, Homosexuality and the Bible, p. 45. [back]


  6. Gagnon, Homosexuality and the Bible, p. 45. [back]


  7. Robert A.J. Gagnon, “The Authority of Scripture in the ‘Homosex’ Debate,” an expanded version of a presentation made to the Southeastern ELCA synod (http://www.robgagnon.net/). [back]

[Hat tip to E.E.]

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

O'Leary on sex-topic rampage (again)

Provoked by our post, "Robert Gagnon: Why sexual orientation is not akin to race or sex" (Musings, May 11, 2008), notorious dissident, Fr. O'Leary, is enjoying a rampage over in Gerald Augustinus' combox, where his targets include, besides myself, Ralph Roiter-Doister, and Ellen, with even Grega weighing in. Have a look, if you can stand it (scroll down near the end of the combox). I'm sure they could use the input, if you've the stomach for it.

Of related concern:
"Gerald Augustinus whY? -- Oh no! Is the Cafeteria Open Again?" (Creative Minority Report)

The place of Jesus in Catholic education

Personal faith, piety, and intimacy with Jesus Christ often seem terribly remote from the strategies of argument and analysis in most Catholic colleges and universities. Catholic professors see this in their students -- and, if they are honest, in themselves. This is why, if they are genuinely Catholic in their sentiments, they will rightly worry that they’re not really making a difference with their well-crafted mission statements, centers for Catholics studies, and required classes in theology.

R.R. Reno addresses the issue in a trenchant article entitled "Personality, Place, and Catholic Education" (First Things, May 13, 2008). He begins his article like this:
Some friends said, “Ho, hum.” They thought Pope Benedict’s recent address to Catholic educators during his U.S. visit was a nonevent. My reaction was different. Benedict brought home to me the daunting challenge of Catholic education. He observed that Catholic universities should not simply inform minds but also change lives by fostering a “personal intimacy with Jesus Christ.” “A particular responsibility” of Catholic educators, he said, “is to evoke among the young the desire for the act of faith, encouraging them to commit themselves to the ecclesial life that follows from this belief.”

Personal intimacy with Christ! It gave me pause....
The problem isn't that he lacks for support, says Reno. At the university where he teaches, they have a well-crafted mission statement, extensive core requirements in philosophy and theology, etc. All those pieces are in place. Well and good. But Benedict presses the issue: The deepest distinctive that makes the biggest difference in Catholic education is the proclamation of Christ as the way, the truth, and the life. "Are we making that kind of difference?" asks Reno. It's a hard, searching question. In the most substantial portion of his article, Reno comes to the point:
Let me put the problem plainly. The lecture hall is not a church, and the laboratory may give us access to the mysteries of the natural world, but it has no saving sacraments. Nearly all the work of higher education involves intellectual training, and as John Henry Newman realized in his own reflections on education, mental refinement often has little influence on the will. “Quarry rock with razors, or moor a vessel with a thread of silk,” he wrote in his masterful lectures The Idea of a University, “then you may hope with such keen and delicate instruments as human knowledge and human reason to contend against those giants, the passion and pride of man.”

... Newman was utterly convinced that education can be transformative, and he pointed the way toward the real source of influence. The will is engaged, thought Newman, by personality, and institutions have personalities. By his reckoning, a university is not simply a matter of classes and assignments, lab reports and carefully argued seminar papers. It’s not just about what students learn—and so quickly forget. Instead, a university is a culture unto itself. It’s a place—or at least it can be a place—that has what he called an “ethical atmosphere” that provides a “living teaching.” A college or university can have a genius loci.

So strongly did Newman feel that true education involves a culture with constant and often insensible influence over the lives of students that he expressed a preference for an undergraduate education with stimulating peers and no professors or classes at an Oxford college over a carefully planned-out and well-taught curriculum designed as if students were interchangeable, disembodied minds. (One can easily imagine his disdain for the idea of distance education over the Internet!)

... Newman’s realistic sense of the limits of mental training and the importance of personality has helped me see the true nature of the problem Catholic educators face in living up to Benedict’s rightful call for an evangelical core to a genuinely Catholic university. In the past, the genius loci of American Catholic colleges and universities came from the distinctive charisms of the religious orders that ran them. Their drastic decline is the simple, devastating fact that explains nearly all the aimlessness and uncertainty in contemporary Catholic higher education. Half-hearted half measures have produced, at best, half successes. The retreat of Catholic identity into campus ministry, social-justice programs, and courses on ethics has kept the flame alive but at the cost of giving up on the classroom and the professoriate. Many institutions are seeing the secularizing results, which is why the question of Catholic identity has become so important in the last decade.
Reno says that he can be dyspeptic, which should endear him to Ralph. As a result, he says, he can become rather jaudiced about the whole question of Catholic education and even about where he teaches. There is no blueprint, no formula, no ten-point action plan for guaranteeing renewal. Benedict's vision can only be realized by the painfully slow process of building and sustaining living Catholic intellectual cultures. This cannot be achieved by some sort of gimmick. Instead, he writes, "the future will be made at each college and university by way of thousands of decisions: whom do we recruit as students, to whom do we offer scholarships, whom do we hire, whom do we tenure, who gets the endowed chair, who is made dean or president. People matter, and, as Newman points out, when it comes to influencing the will, people matter most."

The Newman quote, said the Musings reader who emailed me the link to this article, "makes me ask, if apologetics is not what drives those big Evangelical churches, what does, and can Catholics learn anything from the answer to that question?" I am not sure whether the answer is apologetics, although the subject is surely neglected to our own detriment in serious ways; but the question is one, surely, from which we can learn. The challenge of Benedict is for Catholic educators to face the fact that no strategy of rational argument or analysis will suffice to create a living Catholic intellectual culture without personal intimacy with Jesus Christ, and that this intimacy cannot be relegated entirely to extra-curricular ancillary functions of campus ministry, social-justice programs, and the like. It can't be compartmentalized. Rather Jesus must be found and faced within the academic discourse of the classroom itself.

[Hat tip to J.M.]

Emergent Church: postmodern pathology

The "Emergent (or 'Emerging') Church" movement is a movement of the late 20th and early 21st century whose proponents present themselves as seeking to present the Christian message in new, laid-back conversational packaging to their postmodern unchurched and post-churched peers. Dr. R. Todd Mangum, Associate Professor of Theology and Dean of Faculty at Biblical Seminary [yes, that's its actual name], describes it this way: "'Emergent' is a loosely knit group of people in conversation about and trying experiments in forwarding the ministry of Jesus in new and different ways, as the people of God in a post-Christian context." Um-hmmmm ... You know what I'm talkin' 'bout. It's cool to be hip. Now I wouldn't want to deny for a moment the sincere intentions of some of these fine folk. Yet those with noses for the difference between chicken soup and chicken spit soon realize that the soup is in the other pot: the 'Emergent' folk have themselves succumbed to the pathology of postmodern hippification. At a steep price: a decentering loss of clarity and amorphous banality. But of course, that's part of the appeal: Who wants easy answers when the alternative is a hipster paradise of narcissistic conversation and mocha lattes?

In Why We're Not Emergent: By Two Guys Who Should Be (Moody Publishers, 2008), Kevin DeYoung, the senior pastor at University Reformed Church in East Lansing, and Ted Kluck, a sportswriter who has written for ESPN, have written a friendly critique of the Emergent Church movement. Kristen Scharold reviews the book in a First Things article entitled "The Emerging Church and Its Critics" (FT, May 14, 2008). Her review begins like this:
Order a pint of Guinness, turn up Coldplay, and meet me in the corner booth of our local pub because I want to tell you a story.

Rushing to finish Why We’re Not Emergent, I balance against the train’s jolts while furiously underlining various passages. I live in Bushwick, Brooklyn—which, according to the New York Times, is “home to a growing artists’ scene,” though “many pockets are still poor and the crime rate remains relatively high.” The train slows at my stop. I shove the book back into my purse (relieved to at least put the kitschy orange and green cover out of sight). Waiting for the doors to open, I catch a glimpse of my reflection in the subway windows and suddenly feel disaffected by the “Royal Tenenbaum” gaze that stares back at me. Once in my apartment, I collapse onto my vintage, button-tufted couch and toss aside my Bible—one of those new ESVs with a red leather cover and floral etchings. After putting some Sigur Rós on my iPod and making myself a latte, I pick up where DeYoung and Kluck left off. The end.

A story can say a lot, but it can also leave a lot unsaid. For example, that dull story—with its postmodern self-consciousness, lazy plot line, and forced cultural references—alludes to some facts about myself, but it doesn’t reveal anything about what I actually believe.

The emergent church isn’t much different. Its devotees like to tell stories and engage in discussion, but often the dialogue is not helpful and the stories are not very exciting. This is because the emergent “conversation”—“movements” are passé and narrow-minded—lacks the commentary and the narrative of traditional Christian doctrine.
"Defining the emerging church is like nailing Jell-O to the wall," say the authors of Why We're Not Emergent. Rather than simply making a case against 'Emergence,' DeYoung and Kluck argue for doctrine, conviction, and they do so, according to Scharold, with a winsome authenticity that would make any devotee of 'Emergent Christianity' proud. In their book, they counter the arguments of this movement, refreshingly, she says, with the Word of God and simple logic: "The result is refreshing."

The Musings reader who sent me the link to Scharold's article remarked that the article made him ask whether Vatican II was "the mother of 'Emergent Catholicism' of a respectable mainstream suburban American stripe?" What do you think?

[Hat tip to J.M.]

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

An Evangelical ***yawn*** manifesto?

Evangelicals used to know how to craft a manifesto. The Lausanne Covenant of 1974 was a manifesto that basically defined modern Evangelicalism. On May 7, 2008, however, another group of Evangelicals released a document calling itself a "manifesto" that gives pause. Have Evangelicals lost their touch? Alan Jacobs, in "Come On, You Call This a Manifesto?" (Wall Street Journal, May 9, 2008), suggests that the 20-page document taxes patience, bores the imagination, and conveys a message that boils down to the appeal: "Please don't call us fundamentalists or confuse us with them." Puh-LEEEEZE ... That is like, just so ... yesterday. And how is this supposed to galvanize an increasingly somnolent Evangelical movement? What do these guys have in common with the Call to Action grey hairs with their "Call to Puppery" liturgies? They're fighting the now effectively irrelevant battles of the 60s and 70s. Wake up Neo. It's later than you think.

Saint Pius X, a Backward Pope?

A 1300-page study treatise written by a great scholar, Carlo Fantappiè, overturns that presumption in order to argue what we've known all along: "Saint Pius X, a Backward Pope? No, an Unprecedented Cyclone of Reform" (www.chiesa, May 13, 2008), by Sandro Magister.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

What in the name of Brahman?

A Catholic woman wrote to me recently to tell me that she had embraced the spirituality of Mātā Amritanandamayī Devi, an Indian spiritual leader named otherwise known as "the hugging saint," or "Amma," which means "Mother." People come from miles, even from other continents, to wait in line for hours to be hugged by Amma in a practice called "Darshan." She has been known to individually hug over 50,000 people a day. This, they tell us, is profoundly "healing." It is one of the ironies of metaphysical monism, which regards individuality as illusiory, that in its diverse religious forms it continues to compromise itself by attachments to individuals, whether as in the chosen ishtas of Bhakti Hinduism or as in the embrace of this singular "Amma." Whereas Christianity tells us to love our neighbor, Hinduism tells us that we are our neighbor. But even if I am you and you are me and he is she and we are ultimately all Brahman, it is as if there is something in the most forlorn Hindu souls (or the most jaded lapsed Catholics who have turned to the East as an alternative to "Western institutional religions"), which longs for the loving and embrace of an individual person (human or divine), almost as if they weren't really illusiory. (Click on the image of Amma, above left, for a video documentary on Amma and her "hugging ministry.")

Pentecost:

What do we have when we have the Spirit? We have everything. This is no exaggeration.... All the treasures of God, hidden away in the depths of God from before the foundation of the world, become ours through the Spirit of Pentecost. At Pentecost, God gives us God Himself: What more can we ask?

... God put His Spirit in us when we were dead in transgressions, so that we fulfill the righteous requirement of the law, so that Eden is restored.

... The Spirit makes war against the flesh, as the flesh wars against the Spirit, but the Spirit will be the victor. It’s only through the Spirit that we can trample Satan underfoot. By Him, we put on the armor of God to fight principalities and powers and wickedness in high places.

... What do we have when we have the seven Spirits of God? We have creative wisdom, power, effective speech. And more.

... If this is what the Spirit gives and brings, nothing can be more important than to keep the Spirit of Pentecost.

So: Don’t grieve or quench the Spirit. Don’t lie to the Spirit. Don’t test the Spirit. Don’t insult the Spirit of grace. Don’t let your anger and bitterness, your grumbling and complaining, your hardness and your unforgivingness, drive the Spirit from you. Don’t fall short of the seven Spirits of God. If we lose the Spirit, we have lost everything.

Instead: Follow the Spirit. Walk in the rhythm of the Spirit. Sing in the Spirit. Pray with the Spirit. Be filled with the Spirit. Sow to the Spirit. Reap from the Spirit. Preserve the unity of the Spirit. Be borne by the Spirit. Cling to the Spirit. Breathe in the Spirit, and breathe Him out. Drench yourself in the Spirit. Be anointed with the Spirit. Drink the Spirit, and be drunk by Him.

The Spirit is the Pentecostal Gift of God, and if you have the seven Spirits of God, you have everything. So: In all your getting, get the Spirit, keep Him, and trust Him to keep you.
"Pentecost Homily" (Leithart.com, posted May 9, 2008).

[Hat tip to Dr. E.E.]

Robert Gagnon: Why sexual orientation is not akin to race or sex

You may have heard about the case of Ms. Crystal Dixon, the African American Associate Vice President of Human Resources at the University of Toledo, who was suspended for rejecting a comparison between homosexuality on the one hand and being black or handicapped on the other. Dr. Robert A. J. Gagnon, Associate Professor of New Testament at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary as written a remarkable "Open Letter" to the University President challenging his administration's suspension of Ms. Dixon. It begins like this:
May 6, 2008

President Lloyd Jacobs
University of Toledo

Dear President Jacobs,

Your suspension of Ms. Crystal Dixon, Associate Vice President of Human Resources at the University of Toledo, for rejecting a comparison between homosexuality on the one hand and being black or handicapped on the other hand constitutes, in my view, a gross injustice and an expression of the very intolerance that you claim to abhor. The disciplinary action is also predicated on a lack of knowledge and thus prejudice. I have read of your action first at worldnetdaily.com, then the full exchange at www.toledofreepress.com (the editor’s editorial, Ms. Dixon’s response, your response, and finally the news of the suspension).

Ms. Dixon is absolutely right that sexual orientation is not akin to race or sex. Unlike a homosexual orientation, race and sex are 100% congenitally predetermined, cannot be fundamentally changed in their essence by cultural influences, and are not a primary or direct desire for behavior that is incompatible with embodied structures.

Of course, generally people don't wake up one morning and say, "I think I'll be a homosexual." Yet that is different from arguing that homosexual development is always and only something "given" like race and sex. Even the Kinsey Institute has acknowledged that nine out of ten persons with same-sex attractions will experience at least one shift on the Kinsey spectrum from 0 to 6 during their life; six out of ten will experience two or more shifts. The intensity of impulses, and sometimes even their direction, can and often do change over time. Like various forms of sexual impulses, the degree to which a homosexual "orientation" becomes fixed in an individual's brain and the intensity with which it is experienced, at least in part and for some, can be affected by choices regarding fantasy life, responses to social and environmental factors in childhood and adolescence, the degree to which one acts on impulses, and the degree of self-motivation for change.

Even Edward Stein, a scholar of law and philosophy who is strongly supportive of homosexual unions, has challenged deterministic models of homosexual development. He posits instead a nondeterministic model that incorporates a significant role for choice—often blind, incremental, and indirect but choice nonetheless (The Mismeasure of Desire: The Science, Theory, and Ethics of Sexual Orientation [New York: Oxford University Press, 1999]). This is what the Harvard Gay and Lesbian Review had to say about Stein's book: "A landmark book…. It so pulls the rug out from under biological arguments for lesbian and gay rights that anyone from now on who appeals to such arguments will have to answer to Edward Stein's objections" (from back cover).
Read the rest of this thoroughgoing indictment, not only of the suspension of Ms. Dixon, but the smoke-and-mirrors chicanery of contemporary pro-gay "scholarship." If ever the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force had reason to fear complete exposure of this sort of "scholarship," it is from Professor Gagnon. The man is brilliant.

Book recommendation: Professor Gagnon book below is one I am familiar with and is probably the best analysis of the biblical data concerning homosexuality you will find in print:
Robert Gagnon, The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics (Abingdon, 2001).

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Questioning Snopes: What does this 1895 Eighth Grade exam show?

This is one time I may disagree with Snopes. Snopes examines and evaluates "urban legends" of the kind that make their way around the cyberspace community via emails. One of these messages -- "1895 Exam" (Snopes, July 9, 2007) -- begins like this:
Could you have passed the Eight Grade in 1895? Probably not ... take a look:

This is the eight-grade final exam from 1895 from Salina, KS. It was taken from the original document on file at the Smokey Valley Genealogical Society and Library in Salina , and reprinted by the Salina Journal.

* * * * * * * * * *

8th Grade Final Exam: Salina , KS - 1895

Grammar (Time, one hour)

1. Give nine rules for the use of capital letters.

2. Name the parts of speech and define those that have no modifications.

3. Define verse, stanza and paragraph.

4. What are the principal parts of a verb? Give principal parts of 'lie,''play,' and 'run.'

5. Define case; illustrate each case.

6 What is punctuation? Give rules for principal marks of punctuation.

7 - 10. Write a composition of about 150 words and show therein that you understand the practical use of the rules of grammar.
The exam continues with portions devoted to Arithmetic, U.S. History, Orthography, and Geography, with equally daunting questions. (Do people even know what "Orthography" means these days?)

Now the truly interesting thing about the story, of course, is precisely how daunting the questions are and what this may suggest about the status of education in our own day. In fact, Snopes' own bibliography includes Dan K. Thomson's "A Little Education Once Was a Lot," Scripps Howard News Service (19 June 2001), in which, after reviewing such a story, Thomson says:
The object of this exercise was only to reveal what many of us have known for some time. The dumbing down of American public education over the past 100 years has been substantial, particularly in the last 50 years. When Great-grandma says she only had an eighth-grade education, don't smirk.
What I find peculiar, though, is Snopes' response to the story. Usually Snopes examines the sources of an "urban legend" to see whether it is authentic, and then offers a verdict: "true," "false," or else it sorts out the parts that are true from those that are false. But what Snopes did with this story was not to authenticate its credentials -- to determine whether the exam was historically authentic or not. In fact, it didn't really question its authenticity or even seem interested in that question. Instead, what Snopes did was to formulate the question it posed for its own investigation, as well as its verdict, as follows:
Claim: An 1895 graduation examination for public school students demonstrates a shocking decline in educational standards.

Status: False.
In other words, Snopes is interested in trying to rebut the import of Thomson's claim, and the obvious suggestion of the published exam itself, that our public education today is in any way deficient when compared to that of the 19th century. The Snopes article goes on at considerable lengths to argue why the test should not be taken as betokening a decline in American public education. For one thing, Snopes argues, the exam requires no knowledge of the arts, literature, algebra, trigonometry, foreign languages, or world history. If today's students or even adults "can't regurgitate all the same facts as their 1895 counterparts," says Snopes, "it's because the types of knowledge we consider to be important have changed a great deal in the last century, not necessarily because today's students have sub-standard educations."

I do not deny that what our society considers important today has changed since the 1800s. Yet I think many of these changes have not been necessarily for the better. I do not have in mind so much the topical expansion of education to include many things about such subjects as world history and science that were virtually unknown in 1895 in the U.S. agricultural belt where Salina, KS, is located -- such as the difference between Shiite and Suni Muslims and the virtues of safe sex. Rather, what I have in mind is a sea change in attitudes about the value of substantive and rigorous learning which leave so many graduating from high school and even college today without knowing the most fundamental facts necessary to excelling in a fully human life. Further, students may even graduate without knowing the most basic cultural data considered standard fare by most educators today (See, e.g., our post about the "Culture Quiz" [Musings, June 30, 2006] administered at Lenoir-Rhyne College -- soon to be "University".) I think Snopes missed something on this one.

Speaking of liturgical abominations ...


To borrow a phrase from the Simpsons: "Well, I for one welcome our new White Robed Puppet Overlords."

You can't make this stuff up. It makes the Washington Nationals Mass seem almost liturgically tolerable by comparison. Just imagine if Call to Action had been running the show. Pope Benedict might have had put the entire country under an interdict.

Pour yourself a stiff drink, sit down, and watch the video: "Master of Muppets -- Call to Action Liturgy."

Amy Wellborn, "Call to ... Puppery?" (Charlotte was both, May 6, 2008) comments:
Playing “spot the liturgical abuse” is not the point. Nor is snarking at the average age of the participants. (Just heading off the predictable commentary at the pass here. Let’s go deeper.)

What I am just not grasping, despite my pretty strong powers of empathy, is the gestalt at work here.

Why does everyone think the giant liturgical puppets are so awesome?

This has got to be one of the oddest things I’ve ever seen.
My own observations are twofold:

First, notice that virtually all the Call to Action crowd "assisting at this Mass" (I use the expression loosely) are old people -- goofy geezers at that. There is very little about any of this that the younger generations would consider 'hip'. It's just goofy old people acting out their recrudescent nostalgic fantasies from the 'revolutionary' 1960s. If you want to find young families excited about assisting at Mass, you'll find many more at a Tridentine liturgy than at anything like this.

Second, as bizarre as this Mass may be, my own perception (based on my own experiences over the last two decades) is that most AmChurch parishes would find participating in such a Mass less alien than assisting at a Tridentine Mass. And that, if true, tells us more than we ever needed to know about where the last 45 years have brought us liturgically. Thank God for Pope Benedict VI.

Of related interest:
"The King of Glory" (Adventures in liturgical dance).

Food for thought

Msgr. Cormac Burke, an Irish Opus Dei priest, was appointed by JPII to the Roman Rota. Very interesting articles on his website: anthropology, marriage, etc.

Fr. Luigi Villa's Paolo VI beato? now in English

A reader just sent me the following bit about the recent translation of a traditionalist Italian book. Here's the background: Alice von Hildebrand gave an interview to Latin Mass magazine in 2001. The interview can be found at "The Church in Crisis -- And Scenarios for a Solution" (Scripture and Catholic Tradition, April 13, 2006). In that interview Von Hildebrand referred to a book by Fr. Luigi Villa, Paolo VI beato? (Brescia: Editrice Civilta, 1998; 2nd ed. 2001). That book is now translated thanks to an Italo-Aussie: Father Luigi Villa, "Paul VI ... beatified?." See also: "Paulo Sesto, Beato? Available in English" (Athanasius Contra Mundum).

[Hat tip to A.S.]

Heineken offers U.S. market new Beer Tender

Nice. "Heineken rolls out Beer Tender in U.S." (Realbeer.com, March 11, 2008)

Friday, May 09, 2008

Beer

Recommended sites, both by David Palm:
  • Catholic Beer Review (De Gustibus non est Disputandum) -- for all your beer needs: Hops? Grow 'em! Russian Imperial Stout? Try it! Old Rasputin? Beware the jinx. Stout floats? You'll love 'em!

  • The Reluctant Traditionalist (Reflections on Life, Land, and Traditional Catholicism) -- Rogationtide. The Traditional Latin Mass and the Family. St. Paul contra Sola Scriptura. Maple Syrup Time ... and more.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

The Bible at your fingertips ...

You can now read the Bible at the click of a button..... Check out this innovative Bible research tool from BibleGateway.com (scroll down, and you'll see). Very nice.

Something similar exists for the Douay-Rheims Bible at DRBO.ORG.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Cardinal Kasper gets downright Ratzingerian

Damian Thompson, "Rome tells Anglicans: it's time to decide if you are Protestants or Catholics" (Holy Smoke, Telegraph, May 6, 2008), writes:
The Vatican said last night that the time has come for the Anglican Church to choose between Protestantism and the ancient sacramental Churches of Rome and Orthodoxy.

Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity, told the Catholic Herald that the Anglican Communion must “clarify its identity” and stop hovering between the Catholic and Protestant traditions.

... The cardinal [Kasper] is clearly hoping for some sort of breakthrough – or break-up? – at this summer's Lambeth Conference, which already promises to be a spectacular disaster. But I don't think we should jump to the conclusion that his views represent those of Pope Benedict.
[Hat tip to C.B. for the "Ratzingerian" notion as well as for the link]

"Pope wants the Latin Mass everywhere"

Damian Thompson, in his slightly cheeky 'Holy Smoke' column in the Telegraph (UK), writes: "Bishops Hollis and Conry, if you have ever thought of jumping ship to the C of E, now might a good time to do so. According to a senior Vatican cardinal, Pope Benedict wants the old Latin Mass celebrated in parishes even where the people have not asked for it." Thompson's article, entitled "Pope wants the Latin Mass everywhere" (Telegraph, May 5, 2008), sports a photo of a priest in Tridentine vestments celebrating the Mass ad orientem in a slightly superman-esque pose, beneath which one reads in bold: "English bishops take note: this is what the Mass looks like." Thompson then continues:
Well! That will certainly drive a horse and cart through the English bishops’ shameful attempts to ignore Summorum Pontificum, last year’s papal letter removing their power to block the 1962 (Tridentine) Missal.

According to the Catholic News Agency, Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos, head of the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei, let the cat out of the bag in an interview for a DVD instructing priests on how to celebrate the Extraordinary Form.

Here’s the money quote: “The cardinal said that parishes and priests should make available the Extraordinary Form so that ‘everyone may have access to this treasure of the ancient liturgy of the Church’. He also stressed that, ‘even if it is not specifically asked for, or requested’ it should be provided. Interestingly, he added that the Pope wants this Mass to become normal in parishes, so that ‘young communities can also become familiar with this rite’.”
Thompson suggests, however, that the Pope may need to make one additional provision to realize his goal: "New bishops. Lots of them. And fast."

[Hat tip to A.S.]