Thursday, March 24, 2005

Our culture of death

People were offended when Pope John Paul II referred to ours as a "culture of death." Yet who can possibly contend that we are not head over heels in love with death? Our love affair with death comes out in the violence of the action movies we love, our television programming (both of which consume unquestionably too much of our time), our guns, our language, our driving habits, our pace of life which has so little time for a cup of coffee with others, for our children, our parents, our personal relationships. Who can ignore the 4000 unborn children we kill each day in abortuaries across the United States (yes, that's 4000 in the USA alone, God bless America)! Now we're clamoring for the right to kill ourselves off at the other end of our lives, to terminate one another's lives and our own when we feel the "quality" we judge appropriate (whatever that is) has ebbed sufficiently out of them.

Our country's legal maneuverings to see that Terri Schiavo (pictured right) has her sorry life snuffed out is but the latest installment in the unfolding saga of our love affair with death. What, we've managed to legally maneuver ourselves into a corner where she can't even be provided water to keep her hydrated as her live slips away (let alone a feeding tube to keep her alive). From what I hear, she's perfectly capable of swallowing water. Thirst is a lower brain function, and she's perfectly capable of feeling thirsty. I understand that the symptoms that arise when one is deprived of water sufficiently closely resemble those of influenza, or the flu. It can be an excruciating way to die-- what did someone think that appropriate during Holy Week or something!?

I have a colleague who teaches biology. He asked me what might happen if he proposed the following experiment in one of his biology labs. They would get a puppy and deprive it of food and water for several ways and simply observe it die, taking notes on their observations. Do you not think the students would not protest such a lab exercise, even if it were perfectly legal? Do you not think someone might not even try to slap a lawsuit on such a professor? ... But we can't legally find a way to save the human life of Terri Schiavo (pictured left) whose lower brain functions are at least as functional as those of any puppy? One of my son's has the following bumper sticker on his Honda Civic: "Being pro-choice is easy when you're not the one being killed." Amen to that. How does the ride feel, my friends, as we gather momentum on the greased skids to hell? Smile. Have a nice day.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Hannah Cabrini Blosser

Our household gives thanks to God for the gift of a new, healthy addition to the family, born Hannah Cabrini, March 15th, 2005, 8 pounds and 1 ounce, 20.25 inches long, with a thick head of black hair. Hannah was named for the mother of the Hebrew prophet Samuel and Mother Frances Xavier Cabrini, the first canonized saint of the New World, an Italian nun who founded numerous schools for immigrant children in North and South America, and whose shrine in Golden, Colorado, we had the privilege of visiting two years ago. Her baptism is scheduled for Easter Wednesday. All are invited: Sebastian Chapel, St. Aloysius Catholic Church, March 30th, 7:00pm.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

The Vatican too "repressive"?? Gimme a break!

Karl Keating's e-letter of March 8, 2005, lists the following Vatican discipline cases during the pontificate of Pope John Paul II. The list was reportedly taken from the leftist National Catholic Reporter, which provided it as "evidence" of the "repressiveness" of the current pontificate. Keating's own conclusion is just the opposite, that if there is a scandal here it is that so few have been disciplined as to be almost laughable--only 24 in 26 years! I would add one further observation. All but one of the cases cited (Lefebvre) was left-wing. This should furnish some consolation to Catholic traditionalists who worry that the Vatican has been too hard on faithful, conservative Catholics while being too soft on liberal dissidents. Proportionately this certainly hasn't been the case. Still, when it comes to the big picture, Keating's point is well taken: this pontificate has probably leaned much more toward the laissez-faire side of things than towards discipline. Here's the list:
1. Fr. Jacques Pohier, a French Dominican with heterodox views on the Resurrection, lost his license to teach theology and left the Dominicans in 1984.

2. Fr. Hans Kung lost his license to teach in 1979, partly because of his erroneous teaching about papal infallibility.

3. Fr. Edward Schillebeeckx questioned the virginity of Mary and received "notifications" from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) saying that his writings conflicted with Church teaching.

4. Fr. Charles Curran lost his license to teach in 1986. He was the most prominent American opponent of "Humanae Vitae."

5. Fr. Leonardo Boff, a proponent of liberation theology who taught a skewed Christology, was silenced twice, then left the Franciscans and the priesthood in 1992.

6. Fr. Anthony Kosnik formerly taught at Detroit's seminary and was forced to resign because his writings on sexuality conflicted with basic Catholic teachings.

7. Fr. Gustavo Gutierrez, another proponent of liberation theology, had his writings criticized by the CDF.

8. Fr. Karl Rahner was silenced by John XXIII and was rehabilitated by Paul VI. In later years he became heterodox on contraception and priestly ordination. He also was at odds with the CDF.

9. Fr. Matthew Fox taught pantheism and eventually was expelled from the Dominicans. He joined the Episcopal Church in 1994.

10. Sr. Mary Agnes Mansour was the director of the Department of Social Services in Michigan, where she oversaw funding of abortions. She was forced to choose between that job and the religious life, and she chose the former.

11. Srs. Elizabeth Morancy and Arlene Violet served in the Rhode Island government. Told to choose between their jobs and their lives as members of the Sisters of Mercy, they chose the jobs.

12. Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen, of Seattle, was investigated by the Vatican after numerous allegations of liturgical abuse. An auxiliary bishop was appointed, and Hunthausen lost much of his authority.

13. Fr. Ernesto Cardenal was the minister of culture in Nicaragua's Sandinista government. He was chastised by John Paul II when the Pope visited that country in 1983. Cardenal refused to quit his government post and lost his priestly faculties.

14. Fr. Robert Nugent and Sr. Jeannine Gramick, proponents of homosexuality, were forced to leave New Ways Ministry in 1984. In 1999 the Vatican levied additional sanctions on them.

15. Fr. John McNeill was investigated by the CDF in the 1970s for his views on homosexuality. He was expelled from the Jesuit order in 1987.

16. Srs. Barbara Ferraro and Patricia Hussey signed a 1984 "New York Times" ad that backed abortion and refused a Vatican order to retract their support for the ad.

17. Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre ordained four bishops without papal consent and thereby suffered automatic excommunication.

18. Fr. Tissa Belasuriya published heterodox writings on Christ's divinity, Mary, and original sin. The CDF notified him of errors and ordered him to sign a profession of faith. He refused and was excommunicated in 1997. A year later he was reconciled to the Church.

19. Fr. Eugen Drewermann questioned the Virgin Birth and the reality of the Resurrection. He was expelled from the priesthood.

20. Sr. Ivone Gebara publicly advocated legalized abortion. She was silenced for two years.

21. Bishop Jacques Gaillot lost his position as bishop of Evreux, France, in 1995 because of his promotion of contraception and homosexuality.

Prominent dissidents embrace Vatican authority?

I am always suspicious when well-known public figures in the Catholic world, long known for their leftist rhetoric and often dissident views, are reported to have turned coat and enthusiastically embraced the magisterial orthodoxy. Yet this is exactly what is being reported in recent news about Walter Cardinal Kasper, Peter Hans Kolvenbach, S.J., and Edinburgh Archbishop Keith Patrick Cardinal O'Brien. I have written about at least one vignette in Kasper's history of dissent from Vatican views in an essay entitled "The Kasper-Ratzinger Debate and the State of the Church," originally published in the New Oxford Review (April 2002), pp. 18-25. It's hard to imagine men like Kasper, a maverick theologian who somehow got himself appointed as President of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity, and Kolvenbach, the superior general of the severely eroded and dissident Society of Jesus, could so suddenly shed their former "progressivist" identities. Yet this is what is reported by Sandro Magister at www.chiesa in Rome on March 9, 2005. Excerpts:
For example, in the closing homily for the annual week of prayer for Christian unity, last January 25, Kasper said some things out of keeping with his reputation as a progressivist.

He made strong references to faith in Jesus Christ as the "only savior of all humanity" – in full agreement with the declaration "Dominus Iesus" published by Ratzinger in 2000 and bitterly contested by the advocates of dialogue – and continued:

"But is this reality still clear to all of us? Do we keep it well in mind during our discussions and reflections? Or do we not rather find ourselves in a situation in which our primary task, our greatest challenge, is to remember and reemphasize this common foundation, and prevent its being rendered meaningless by the so-called 'liberal' interpretations which define themselves as progressivist but are, in reality, subversive? Precisely at this moment, when everything is becoming relative and arbitrary in postmodern society, and everyone creates his own religion à la carte, we need a solid foundation and a common point of reference that will be trustworthy for our personal life and for our ecumenical work. And what foundation could we have, except Jesus Christ? Who better than He to guide us? Who can give us more light and hope than He can? Where, except in Him, can we find the words of life (cf. Jn. 6:68)?"
But even more sharply in contrast with his erstwhile progressivism is what Kasper has written in a book recently published in Germany and Italy, by the publishing houses, respectively, of Herder and Queriniana: Sacrament of Unity: The Eucharist and the Church. Kasper published this book for the occasion of the eucharistic year proclaimed in 2004 by John Paul II, following hard upon the heels of the Pope's publication of an encyclical in 2003 on the eucharist: "Ecclesia de Eucharistia." The prevailing intention of the encyclical is reportedly that of denouncing the abuse, evidently widespread in central Europe and Latin America, of celebrating the Mass without an ordained priest, not only because of scarcity of priests but because of an erroneous interpretation of the "priesthood of all believers." Some in the progressivist camp even defend the practice as an innovation the Church ought to approve without reservation. But Kasper's response to this matter, in his book, is an unrserved "no." He writes:
A celebration of the eucharist without the ministry of the priest is unthinkable. The ministry of the priest is integral to the celebration of the eucharist. This is also true in cases of extreme emergency. Wherever there have been situations of extreme persecution, in which it has not been possible to have a priest for years or for decades, we have never heard of a parish community or an individual group celebrating the eucharist by their own initiative, without a priest.
Kasper goes on in his book to defend the Vatican's traditional teaching against this and other abuses within the liturgy.

Again, here is a passage from an interview with Kolvenbach (pictured right) relating to inter-religious dialogue. (The full interview, conducted by Giuseppe Rusconi, was published in issue 1, 2005, of "Il Consulente RE," a bimonthly distributed only by mail, which is sent to about 3,500 ecclesiastics and religious, published by Gruppo RE, which specializes in financial services for men and institutions of the Church):
There is no lack of authoritative voices saying that a true [interreligious] dialogue has still not taken place.

Certainly, thanks to the efforts of John Paul II the religions meet with each other, sometimes coming to agreement as in Assisi to say together that no one may kill in the name of God.

But there is a continually growing awareness, to the extent to which we come to know each other's deep religious convictions, that there is an unbridgeable gap between the religions.

It's true, an unbridgeable gap. We can of course discuss civilized coexistence among the religions, but experience shows that -- whether we like it or not -- faith in the Most Holy Trinity is for all the religions an insurmountable obstacle to a deeper dialogue.
Even the controversial Archbishop Keith Patrick O'Brien of Edinburgh, Scotland, who has a well-deserved reputation for being a progressivist and dissenter on various Church teachings, was recently reported in the New Oxford Review (February 2005) to have come out with guns blazing against Scotland's proposed sex education program as "state-sponsored sexual abuse of children." In the NOR article, entitled "Reflections on the Church Hierarchy" (pp. 34-29), Tom Bethell writes:
In an article for the (London) Sunday Times, O'Brien said that the draft program called for sex-education for pre-school children as young as three and four, dismissed abstinence and suggested a widening of access to contraception and abortions for pupils without parents' consent." He also noted that funding "for sexual health strategies appears to be inversely proportional to their success."

... How many of our home-grown mitered church-mice would have dared say (as O'Brien continued): "Yet as our health and education services drive forward plans to contracept a generation of Scots ... a more sinister agenda is emerging. It amounts to little more than the sexualization of our children and it is an agenda that should chill us all."
I cannot presume to know the minds of Kasper, Kolvenbach, or O'Brien. Their recent statements seem altogether out-of-character in many ways. A cynical construal might impugn their motives, suspecting some ulterior political design in their theological re-alignments. Whatever the case, one cannot exactly remonstrate over public statements and positions taken in support of Holy Mother Church.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Marvin Olasky on Francis Schaeffer's "Political Legacy"

Christopher (Against the Grain, March 6, 2005) writes:
Writing for, Marvin Olasky (author of Compassionate Conservatism) attributes the election of evangelical Christian George W. Bush not to strategists like Karl Rove but rather the political legacy of Francis Schaeffer (1912-1984), the Presbyterian theologian who founded the Christrian community of L'Abri in Switzerland.
I had the opportunity of studying at L'Abri for one year back in the 1970s. Then as now it was a beautiful place with intelligent students engaged in the pursuit of serious discussions about what is true, good, and beautiful-- a wonderful place. [The Les Dents du Midi mountain range, pictured right]

Reflecting on Christopher's own comments about Schaeffer [pictured left], I couldn't help observing a number of things. Good ol' Schaeffer! While he was being treated for the cancer that eventually killed him, Schaeffer refused to be treated in a Baptist hospital because it performed abortions, and insisted on being moved into the Catholic hospital across the street from it. He died a Protestant, but one well on his way towards articulating the bankruptcy of evangelical Protestantism, as he did in his book, The Great Evangelical Disaster. His son, Franky, converted to Orthodoxy, but there's no telling what his father would have done had he lived longer. Surely he would have at least re-thought his "critique" of St. Thomas Aquinas, which was overly simplistic and formulaic (well-critiqued by Arvin Vos in his excellent book, Aquinas, Calvin, and contemporary Protestant thought: A critique of Protestant views on the thought of Thomas Aquinas).

Schaeffer's thought may not be as subtle and sophisticated as many would like--and as a Catholic I certainly don't agree with all of his conclusions--but one could do far worse that revisit his now classic little apologetical volumes such as Escape from Reason, which you mention, or The God Who Is There, or He is there and He is not silent--all of which are now available in the form of a trilogy: The Francis A. Schaeffer Trilogy: The 3 Essential Books in 1 Volume/the God Who Is There/Escape from Reason/He Is There and He Is Not Silent. Even if young Catholics garnered the basics he has to offer them, they'd be well on their way to acquiring the kind of background necessary for a much better understanding of the relevance of their own faith in the contemporary world. Archbishop Fulton Sheen loved Schaeffer's work.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

I, Liturgist

There have been a great many letters and articles in the NOR [New Oxford Review] dealing with the crisis in Catholic worship. One recent correspondent, Fr. Andre J. Meluskey (letters, Jul.-Aug. 2004), compares the state of our liturgy to the action of a pendulum. I know whereof he speaks, for I have swung to and fro in my liturgical affections. I have had grotesque "Kumbaya" moments--as when I attended a cursillo Mass and was glared at by a woman when I hesitated to hold her hand during the Our Father--that have sent me reeling in a Tridentine-or-bust mode. And conversely, there have been times, watching the unruly children in the public housing project across the street from the Boston indult church, when I have believed that our bordello-cum-mall of a society is truly missionary territory, and that only a vernacular Mass will do. Is there a way to halt the proverbial pendulum and have a Roman Rite that is both timeless and new?

I submit, first, that the Tridentine Rite should be available--unadulterated--to all interested Catholics, without need of an indult. When those of a modern bent are allowed to practice yoga and the enneagram at local parishes, it is absurd that anyone should have to petition the chancery in order to assist at the Mass of the Ages. To require episcopal permission for the ancient liturgy is to suggest that the "old" Mass is somehow disturbing, like an exorcism.

In a spirit of fraternal correction, I offer the "reform of the reform" party a few suggstions.

THE SANCTUARY: We desperately need to have the Tabernacle back where it belongs, in the middle of the sanctuary on the high altar. A cultural anthropologist from another planet, upon seeing the "presider's chair" in the middle of the average sanctuary, would think that the priest himself ws the object of worship. It is especially disconcerting to see lay ministers and other congregants genuflect or bow to a Tabernacle-free sanctuary. Unless a relic is embedded in the altar table, homage in such a case is being paid to a table or a chair.

And let us restore the altar rail. Our extraterrestial ethnologist, witnessing the manner in which Communion is usually distributed, would interpret the event to be a mere breadline.

MUSIC: As Pius V, in the bull Quo Primum, banned all liturgies less than 200 years old, I propose that all music less than 50 years old be precluded from use at Mass. (This standard would leave room for "O Holy Name," written in the 1930s by Boston's William Cardinal O'Connell.) I know that such a policy would be heartbeaking for fans of the Irish singer Dana, but is there any reader of the NOR who does not believe that "Taste and See" sounds like an advertising jingle for margarine?

SATURDAY VIGIL MASSES: In whichever manner this practice originated (unionized sacristans demanding flexible hours?), would it not be sensible to delay the offering of the Mass of the Lord's Day until after sunset on Saturday? For a similar custom, see "Sabbath, Jewish" in your Catholic encyclopedia.

DRESS AND DECORUM: Cellular phones that ring during Mass should be seized and sold at the parish Christmas bazaar. Body parts that affect the custody of the eyes should be covered. (We are called to clothe the naked, after all.) And let us leave room for the Holy Spirit (five inches, you know) during the Rite of Peace hug-a-thon.

ORIENTATION: How about if our priests performed the Consecration facing Jerusalem? (It would be handy, of course, if the nave of each church were pointed in the right direction.) The confection of the Sacrament upon a table facing the people reminds one of a cooking demonstration on a Saturday morning television show.

EUCHARISTIC PRAYER IV WITH A SIDE ORDER OF WON TON SOUP: There should be a difference between a Missal and a Chinese menu. Enough said.

There is nothing inherently wrong with Mass in a modern language, if the missal translation is faithful and if the ruberics of the liturgy show due reverence for the Blessed Sacrament. But as long as pro multis ("for many") makes a detour through pseudo-Aramaic and comes out "for all," while our bishops persist in their fear and loathing of kneeling, the "new Mass" will be problematic.

It is apparent from the half-empty pews that somebody in authority needs to do something. In too many places, the Roman liturgy has degenerated into a Missa Buffa. If the Church in the West continues to decline in numbers and influence, Catholics in general may end up like those underground traditionalists who hear Mass in the modern catacombs of converted hotel rooms and American Legion halls. One wonders if this is what the proponents of liturgical "priminivism" had in mind all along.

Jim Macri

[Jim Macri, a cradle Catholic and a volunteer with Massachusetts Citizens for Life, writes from Malden, Massachusetts.
[Reprinted with permission from New Oxford Review, 1069 Kains Ave., Berkeley CA 94706, U.S.A.]

Recommended for additional reading:

Thomas M. Kocik, Reform of the Reform?: A Liturgical Debate: Reform or Return (San Diego: Ignatius Press, 2003)--an excellent book.