Thursday, April 24, 2014

St.Paul's Autographs (Throwback Thursday Edition)


     If you’re familiar with St. Paul’s letters, you’ve seen a number of them end with some variation of: “I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand” (1 Cor 16:21).  Many people don’t pay much attention to these little passages, as they don’t seem to add to the theological content of the letters; they appear to have served a purpose similar to that of a signature on a modern day letter, a form of authentication.   Most likely, a clerk or scribe wrote out most of the letter from Paul’s dictation, while the Apostle himself put down the closing in his own hand, a sort of “autograph” which would be familiar, we may presume, to the recipients.   Paul makes explicit reference to this authenticating purpose in 2nd Thessalonians: “I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. This is the mark in every letter of mine; it is the way I write” (2 Thess 3:17).
     As I said, many people just pass over these “signatures”.  I suppose they’re included in the Bible, in large part, simply because they were contained in the letters when the letters were formally added to the Canon of Sacred Scripture.  And yet I’ve always had a special fondness for them.
     As I mentioned in a previous post (here), I had a powerful, life-changing conversion of my own on the feast of the conversion of St. Paul, although I didn’t realize the significance of the date until some time after the fact.  One of the first things I did in the first flush of revert fervor is resolve to read the whole Bible, starting with the New Testament (a good place to start, as it turns out).  I found all sorts of surprises.  I had been raised in a Catholic family (not devout, really, but more or less observant) and sent to Catholic schools, so some of the surprises were things I had seen many times, but now truly understood for the first time.  Those were exciting.  But there were also things I never expected, and at the top of that list is meeting Paul of Tarsus. 


     There were things in Paul’s story with which I could identify: we were both heading in the wrong direction, until an unlooked-for meeting with Christ turned us 180 degrees in the other direction.  But there was something more: there are other letters in the New Testament, and we can certainly get a sense of the personalities of Peter, John and James, but none of them seemed so real to me as Paul.  His are the only books in the Bible where the author’s voice is so strong and distinct that I felt, after reading them, that I really knew him.  Sometimes he seems just a little irascible, as in the ironic, almost sarcastic, remarks addressed to the Corinthians (my italics):

I hear that there are divisions among you; and I partly believe it, for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized.  When you meet together, it is not the Lord's supper that you eat.  For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal, and one is hungry and another is drunk.  What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not.   (1 Cor 11:18-22)

Or the entire letter to the Galatians, St. Paul’s most emotional epistle, where the Apostle has scarcely finished his greeting when he expresses his amazement that they were “so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and turning to a different gospel” (Gal 1:6), and later calls them “foolish”, (anoetoi, literally “mindless”) for listening to the Judaizers who insisted that ritual circumcision was necessary for salvation (Gal 3:1).  Finally, in his frustration, his expresses the wish that the Judaizers would, as the RSV translation puts it, “mutilate themselves” (Gal 5:12).  Paul uses the Greek word apokopsontai, from the verb apokopto, which means “lop off”. In other words, if they’re so fond of circumcision, why don’t they just take everything off?
     We can see in these outbursts, which form a relatively small proportion of St. Paul’s writing, that his very human frustration springs from his great love for his spiritual children.  They are also more than offset by expressions of great joy, such as:

Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?
Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I of myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin. There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set me free from the law of sin and death. (Rom 7:24-8:2)

Or by passages of radiant beauty, such as his great and much-quoted hymn to Love (agape) in 1 Corinthians 13.
     My attachment to St. Paul springs in large part from the Catholic Sacramental Imagination, the sense that God is always trying to reach us through his creation: Jesus Christ himself is the prime example, of course, but sacraments, sacramentals, the mission of the Apostles, the lives of the Saints . . . “The Heavens proclaim the Glory of God!” (Psalm 19.1).  And St. Paul’s autographs do, too (you didn’t think I forgot about those, did you?), because they are a tangible reminder  that his Letters, in addition to being the Inspired Word of God, were once also ordinary letters composed by a flesh and blood man, and written down in ink with a stylus.  Consider this from the Letter to Philemon:

If he has wronged you at all, or owes you anything, charge that to my account - I, Paul, write this with my own hand -  I will repay it, to say nothing of your owing me even your own self. (Phil 18-19)

In his eagerness to assure Philemon that he, Paul, is really offering to pay Onesimus’ debts, he doesn’t wait for the closing, but takes over from his scribe in the middle of a sentence to insert his signature.  That’s the messiness of real life.
     My favorite of St. Paul’s autographs, however, is this one: “See with what large letters I am writing to you with my own hand!” (Gal 6:11).  Here, at the end of the Letter to the Galatians, after he has mounted an impassioned defense of his authority as Apostle, told his correspondents they were fools and expressed the wish that the Judaizers geld themselves, we see St. Paul pause to take delight in the sight of his handwritten letters looping across the page.  How can you not love this guy?
       

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

ABORTION MYTH #11

MYTH: “Pro-lifers don’t care about women, and do nothing to help babies after they are born.”

TRUTH: The reality is just the opposite – the abortion industry offers women little beyond destroying their children and taking their money, while pro-lifers actually do quite a lot for women before during, and after their pregnancies.  Consider the following:

A Care-Net Mobile Pregnancy Help Center


-Abortion clinics (even “non-profits” such as Planned Parenthood, see here) charge women a fee to abort their babies, and make millions of dollars from abortion every year.  Pro-life pregnancy resource centers, in contrast, offer their services for free and are staffed by volunteers who donate their time and money.  There are thousands of pregnancy resource centers, both independent and affiliated with larger networks such as Care-Net [link], and they outnumber abortion clinics by a wide margin.

-From the Life Site summary of Planned Parenthood’s 2013-2013 annual report: “In 2012, abortions made up 93.8% of Planned Parenthood’s pregnancy services, while prenatal care and adoption referrals accounted for only 5.6% (19, 506 [as opposed to 327,166 abortions]) and 0.6% (2,197), respectively.  For every adoption referral, Planned Parenthood performed 149 abortions.”   

-Contrary to misleading statements from pro-abortion sources (including President Obama), Planned Parenthood performs NO mammograms.

-Pro-life volunteers provide numerous services both before AND after the baby is born, including free maternity and baby clothes, supplies, free or low cost medical and legal assistance, adoption referrals, parenting support and assistance, and child care.  An increasing number of pregnancy centers offer free ultrasounds. Some pro-life organizations, such as The Nurturing Network [link], even provide help finding employment, housing, and education opportunities to women.

-Pro-life volunteers have helped numerous women seeking peace after the trauma of abortion through programs such as Project Rachel and Rachel’s Vineyard.  Abortion providers offer nothing comparable

DON’T BUY THE LIE!


Essential Pro-Life Resources:

Pro-Life Answers to Pro-Choice Arguments (link)  

The Elliot Institute (link)  

National Right To Life Committee (link)  

Care-Net (link)

The Nurturing Network (link)


Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Steyn, Spong, Kempton, and The Passion of the Christ

     Sometimes there is a certain event that perfectly crystalizes important social trends: such was Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ. We may forget ten years later the magnitude of the film’s impact.  Last week Mark Steyn marked its ten year anniversary with an updated review [here].  While I disagree with some of his points (more on this below), Steyn does a good job of capturing the movie’s significance, while at the same time recognizing some of its artistic weaknesses.  His most incisive observation is that the controversy sparked by the movie was “not between Christians and Jews, but between believing Christians and the broader post-Christian culture, a term that covers a large swathe of the media to your average Anglican vicar.”  There’s a lot packed in to that brief quote, including a recognition of the sad reality that a very large part of that “post-Christian culture” is made up of people who claim to be (and very often think that they are) “believing Christians”.  Among protestants the two groups break down to some degree along denominational lines, although even the most “progressive” churches have some members who adhere to a more traditional Christian belief and practice; in the Catholic church we’re all thrown in together, which keeps things lively.
     One of those devout, traditional Christians in a denomination that was much less so was the late left-wing
journalist and commentator Murray Kempton, who was an Episcopalian.  I remember reading one of his columns at least a decade before The Passion came out in which he was comparing Catholic Cardinal O’Connor, then Archbishop of New York, and Episcopalian bishop John Shelby Spong of Newark, New Jersey.  As I recall, Kempton had less than kind words for co-religionist Spong, who had made himself a darling of the cultural elite by publicly doubting the Resurrection and dismissing orthodox Christian morality, and lavished high praise on the Catholic Cardinal, with whom he doubtless disagreed on many points, but whose willingness to teach without apology the faith as received from the Apostles was undeniable.  I don’t recall the columnist’s exact words from a distance of more than twenty years, but I have retained a very clear recollection of his assertion that a man who could not affirm the most essential Christian doctrine had no business being a bishop.  To Kempton, it was a matter of integrity: you should be what you are.
     Murray Kempton and Cardinal O’Connor are no longer with us, but John Shelby Spong, it seems, lives on.  The now-retired Episcopal bishop was a major focus in an article published in the Washington Post on Holy Saturday which assures us that “The Gospel Story Of Jesus’ Resurrection Is A Source Of Deep Rifts In The Christian Religion”.  You may wonder exactly what “Christian Religion” they’re talking about.  After all, belief in the Resurrection is, and always has been, the absolute minimum requirement for being a Christian. St. Paul says that if Christ didn’t rise from the dead we are the most pitiful of men (1 Cor. 15:19) – and he never even met Bishop Spong. The Resurrection marks the rift between Christians and everyone else: on one side you are a Christian, on the other you’re not. In any case, Easter has become an annual occasion for the secular press to celebrate self-proclaimed Christians who deny the divinity of Christ, or the latest hyped-up claim that such-and-such archaeological discovery “proves” that Jesus had brothers, children, wives, etc. Why should they care?  Because the Church and believing Christians are all that stand between them and the “progressive” program of re-making the world in the image of whatever appeals to them at the time.
     Which brings me back to Steyn’s review of The Passion of the Christ. One of his criticisms  with which I disagree is his take on Gibson’s Satan.  Steyn dismisses him (Her? It?) as “a cross between Nosferatu and Jessica Lange in All That Jazz”.  I don’t actually disagree with that description, but where Steyn sees it as a misstep, I found the creepy androgyny of Evil One to be a particularly astute touch, especially for a 21st century audience.  Non Serviam! “I will not serve!” is the essence of Satan; Lucifer’s refusal to be what God made him to be lies at the heart of his fall.  His refusal to be either male or female is a brilliant counterpoint to the creation story in Genesis: “Male and female he created them (Genesis 5:2)”, and of course an apt reflection of the refusal by so many in our world today to accept this basic truth about human nature, not just in our sexual relationships but even in our very bodies [see here]. Which, in turn, brings us back to  Integrity, which is, after all, is about much more than telling the truth: it is about being a fully integrated whole, about truly being who you are.
     This is where Steyn, Spong, Kempton and The Passion of the Christ all come together.  There are any number of reasons why a devout Christian might not like the film.  Its effect, however, has been to cast a bright light on the growing divide between enduring Christian belief and the Spirit of an Age that more and more is succumbing to what the soon-to-be Pope Benedict XVI called “the dictatorship of relativism”, an age in which integrity has been conquered by ideology. The late, great Richard John Neuhaus used to say that “When orthodoxy becomes optional, sooner or later it will be proscribed.”  In the decade since the release of The Passion of the Christ, the wisdom of those words has become ever clearer.  I have previously cited St. Ignatius [here] to the effect that there are two armies facing each other, Christ’s and Satan’s, and there’s no middle ground. Eventually, we all have to be who we truly are, and choose our Master: which one will it be?
    






Sunday, April 20, 2014

J.S. Bach - Sinfonia, Oster-Oratorium BWV 249 / Philippe Herreweghe

The opening Sinfonia from J.S. Bach's Easter Oratorio.  He is Risen! Alleluia!



Sunday Snippets - a Catholic Carnival - Easter Sunday 2014

The Lord Is Risen Alleluia. Alleluia!  Christ has conquered death!
This is the greatest day to be a Christian – a brilliant reminder of the Hope that is in us.
     Rather lower on the scale of importance (what isn’t?), this is also the day for “Sunday Snippets – A Catholic Carnival”, a festive sort of gathering at This That and the Other Thing [link] where Catholic bloggers share their post from the previous week.
     For a variety of reasons it was a less productive a week at Principium et Finis than usual, but it did have its moments:

Wednesday -  Ran in to an old friend, Ma Jones.  We’ve gone our separate ways over the years, but, amidst the expected blather, she really did have an something interesting to say about poverty:   “In Mother Jones, Of All Places” [link]


Thursday – The answer to another venerable lie from the Abortion Industry (and, of course, childbirth is always safer for the baby):  “Abortion Myth #2” [link]


also – What more perfect image of human imperfection than Peter, James, and John dozing off at the most crucial moment? “Asleep In The Garden” [link]


Saturday – Something strnge is happening, strange and wonderful, and you are there: “Something strange is happening . . .” [link]


Gaudete! Christus Resurrectus est!

Saturday, April 19, 2014

"Something strange is happening . . ."


On Good Friday and Holy Saturday every year the Cathedral here offers the Office of Readings and Morning Prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours, presided over by the bishop (we are fortunate that we now have a bishop again after an interregnum of a year and a half).  It has become a tradition for me to attend on Holy Saturday with my four sons, while my wife and daughter stay home and enjoy some Female Bonding.  I have been writing a series of posts recently about the Liturgy of the Hours as a private devotion for laypeople, [starting  here] with an emphasis on how we can structure our daily routine around prayer and so make Christ the center of our day.  Praying the Divine Office as a congregational prayer is an even more powerful experience.  This morning upwards of fifty people, mostly lay, gathered with our bishop, two of his priests and two cantors in the sanctuary of the Cathedral; the cantors sang the antiphons in Latin, and we all chanted the Psalms together.  It was a beautiful and moving experience.
     The Liturgy of the Hours is just one of many means that Christ has given, through his Church, to  conform ourselves to Him, as he has called us to do (see Rom 12:2, Eph 5:1-2. 1Peter 2:21, and many other places in scripture).  In fact, if we fail in this, all else is worthless (See 1 Cor 13).  Not only are there many means, there are also any number of ways in which to conform ourselves to Christ.  Many people see this as  a largely spiritual, and therefore an internal matter; to some degree this is true, but it's only part of the story. The moral quality of our life and conduct, for instance, is also important.  As Catholics we further understand that we often come to realize spiritual realities through God’s creation, an understanding often referred to as the “Sacramental Imagination” of the “Sacramental Principle.”  That’s why we place so much importance on the Sacraments and sacramentals; that’s why at the end of every Mass the priest used to read the beginning of John’s Gospel, the Beloved Disciple’s great hymn to the Eternal Word who Became Flesh and dwelt among us”(John 1:14). That is also why the Liturgical Calendar is so important, so that we might live out the story of Salvation in our lives over the course of each year, rather than just read or hear about it.  Through the Liturgical Calendar we sanctify time over the course of an entire year, just as the Liturgy of the Hours consecrates each day.
     We have an especially rich experience of this Sacramental Reality during the Triduum and Easter, when the Liturgical Year reaches its peak.  Just as the Sacrifice and Resurrection of Jesus is not simply reenacted at every Mass but is actually present outside the confines of time, so it is during the Holy Week and Easter liturgies: we are present as Christ washes the Apostles feet at the last supper; we are in the crowd calling for Jesus’ crucifixion on Good Friday; we stand in front of the Empty Tomb on Easter Sunday.
     Which brings us back to today's Office of Readings. The non-Scriptural reading from today’s office was, as the prayer book says, “From an ancient homily for Holy Saturday.”  It begins:

Something strange is happening – there is a great silence on earth today, a great silence and stillness. The whole earth keeps silence because the King is asleep. The earth trembled and is still because God has fallen asleep in the flesh and he has raised up all who have slept ever since the world began. God has died in the flesh and hell trembles with fear. . . 


But now night is falling, and the whole world is awaiting a new dawn . . . 

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Asleep In The Garden

And they went to a place which was called Gethsem'ane; and he said to his disciples, "Sit here, while I pray." And he took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be greatly distressed and troubled.  And he said to them, "My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch." And going a little farther, he fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him.  And he said, "Abba, Father, all things are possible to thee; remove this cup from me; yet not what I will, but what thou wilt." And he came and found them sleeping, and he said to Peter, "Simon, are you asleep? Could you not watch one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak."  And again he went away and prayed, saying the same words.  And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were very heavy; and they did not know what to answer him. And he came the third time, and said to them, "Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? It is enough; the hour has come; the Son of man is betrayed into the hands of sinners.  Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand." And immediately, while he was still speaking, Judas came, one of the twelve, and with him a  crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests and the scribes and the elders.       -Mark 14:32-43

     It’s been a tough week.  Like Martha, I’ve been worried about many things (Luke 10:41), and find myself physically and mentally exhausted (one result of which is that I have posted very little on this blog this week). I had wanted to post something for the upcoming Triduum . . .but . . . nothing.  Nothing insightful, interesting, or even clever came to mind.  As I fruitlessly racked my brain (now there’s an interesting image!) up came an image of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, in agony (according to Steve Ray, to whom I was listening on my car radio on the way in to work,  many scholars believe that Christ’s greatest suffering was in the garden, where he felt the full weight of humanity’s sins).  Peter, John, and James doze off (three times!), too wrapped up in themselves to attend to the Master who has asked for their support in his time of supreme trial.  That’s me, I realized: at the holiest time of the year, as I should be focusing on The Lord suffering for my sins, all I can think of is myself.  It’s sort of sad, isn’t it? 

     That being the case, I’ve resolved to turn my focus to Jesus Christ as I take part in the observance of the Easter Triduum.  I’ll set aside my concerns and worries (please, Lord, give me the Grace!); if the Holy Spirit gives me something worthwhile to say I’ll say it, if not I’ll content myself to keep My Lord company from the Cenacle to Calvary, and wait in Joyful Hope for his return on Easter Sunday.

ABORTION MYTH #2 (Throwback Thursday Edition)

MYTH: "Abortion is safer than childbirth."

TRUTH:

- A government funded study in Finland in 1997 found that women were four times more likely to die in theyear following an abortion than in the year following childbirth.  More recent studies in Canada and California reached similar conclusions.

- Since the 1950’s dozens of studies around the world have shown a significantly greater risk of breast cancer for women who have had abortions.

- Women who have had abortions are also at greater risk of cervical, ovarian, and liver cancer.

-Women who have had abortions are at higher risk of complications in subsequent pregnancies, including: complications of labor, placenta previa, ectopic pregnancy and handicapped newborns.

-10% of women undergoing elective abortion will suffer immediate complications, of which approximately one fifth (2%) are considered life threatening.

-Women still die every year from legal abortions (see Gosnell, Kermit [link]).

(figures courtesy of the Elliot Institute, www.afterabortion.org)


DON’T BUY THE LIE!


Essential Pro-Life Resources:

Pro-Life Answers to Pro-Choice Arguments (link)  

The Elliot Institute (link)  

National Right To Life Committee (link)  

Care-Net (link)

The Nurturing Network (link)


Wednesday, April 16, 2014

In Mother Jones, Of All Places

Radical activist, the original Mother Jones
     Back in my secular, radical college days I used to enjoy a leftish publication called Mother Jones, your proverbial Left-Wing Rag.  I had not so much as gazed upon said publication since somewhere around the transition between President Reagan’s first and second terms, when the other day  I happened across a recent copy, and decided to look inside, for old times’ sake.  There among the expected articles about the balefulness of the sinister plastic companies, and a hit job aiming to show that Louisiana’s Republication Governor Bobby Jindal is a wacko because he’s a believing Catholic, and so on, I found a most unexpected piece called “What If Everything You Knew About Poverty Was Wrong? [link]”  I say unexpected not because everything I know about poverty is wrong, necessarily, but because the factual content of the article actually validates much of what is being said about poverty on what its author, and the magazine, would consider “the right”.  I take this as a hopeful sign that maybe, maybe, we can start having a conversation about poverty that rises above the usual political divisions.
     The article, written by Stephanie Mencimer, is a profile of poverty researcher Kathryn Edin, a Johns-Hopkins University sociologist who decided she could better understand the poor if she moved into the most poverty-blasted area of East Camden, New Jersey (although herself a Methodist, one of Edin’s long-time heroes is St. Francis of Assisi).  The article would have us believe that in doing so Edin discovered things previously unknown:

. . . Unlike academics who draw conclusions about poverty from the ivy tower, Edin has gotten up close and personal with the people she studies – and in the process has shattered many myths about the poor, rocking sociology and public-policy circles.

 What are some of these explosive findings? Here’s a sampling:

-. . .most moms on welfare were already working under the table . . . they didn’t get legal jobs because  of a straight-forward economic calculus: Low wages drained by child care, transportation, and other expenses would have left them poorer than they were on welfare.

-In a society that increasingly saw marriage as a choice, not a requirement, low-income women were embracing the same preconditions as middle-class women.  They wanted to be “set” before marrying . . .

-The low-income women in Edin’s study reported that decent, trustworthy, available men were in short supply in their communities, where there were often major sex imbalances thanks to high incarceration rates.

-They believed that if they waited until everything was perfect, they might never have children.  And children, says Edin, “are the thing in life you can’t live without . . .

And what did Edin learn about the fathers of the children?

-“Rather  than viewing fatherhood as a burden, the men almost uniformly saw it as a blessing . . . ‘these guys thought that by bringing children into the world they were doing something good in the world.’”

-“When the babies were born, most of the men reported a desire to be a big part of their lives.  Among black men, 9 in ten reported being deeply involved with their children under the age of two, meaning they had routine, in-person contact with their  kids several times a month.  But that involvement faded with time.  Only a third of black fathers and a quarter of white fathers were still involvrd with kids older than 10.”

Why do these initially well-intentioned fathers lose interest in their children over time?

“Among the reasons, Edin identifies unstable relationships with the mothers . . . the men also frequently struggled with substance abuse and stints in prison

A factor not referenced in the article itself, but which comes up in the comments is that a father of children with a series of mothers is naturally going to pay more attention to the children of the woman with whom he is currently involved.
     Of course, there’s also a third party involved in these relationships, the government:

Government rules also stood in the way of meaningful fatherhood.  The welfare system tends to view an unwed father solely as a paycheck, not a co-parent . . .

“At every turn an unmarried man who seeks to be a father, not just a daddy, is rebuffed by a system that pushes him aside with one hand while reaching into his pocket with another,” Edin and [her husband, sociologist Tim] Nelson write.

     What I find most interesting about this article is that, when you take out the leftish rhetorical flourishes (e.g., swipes at Ronald Reagan and the Clinton era welfare reform), what the author is describing is not that different from what someone like conservative economist Walter Williams is saying, as I discussed in an earlier post [here].  Even when the article tries to rebut the very argument Williams is making it doesn’t quite work.  For instance:

“You hear people say there’s not material poverty in the Us,” says Nelson;  census data, the argument  goes, shows that most of America’s poor have TVs and air conditioning.  But the people their finding in Cleveland and other study sites, says Edin, “aren’t in the census.”

Aside from the fact that by simply discounting the census data you’ve thrown out the only quantifiable evidence you have, this misconstrues the actual argument.  Walter Williams and others aren’t saying that there’s not real material poverty, rather that the causes of poverty in the United States are not primarily material.  Williams say:

What we have in our nation are dependency and poverty of the spirit, with people making unwise choices and leading pathological lives aided and abetted by the welfare state.

Now compare that with what Kathryn Edin has discovered: people working “under the table” because the welfare system penalizes employment, government incentives and social pressure simultaneously discouraging marriage (“One of the women had even been chewed out by her grandmother for marrying the father of one of her children”) and encouraging the bearing and rearing of children out of wedlock; fatherhood denigrated both by the system and society; men and women who really do want to be good mothers and fathers, but repeatedly making choices that have the opposite effect. For instance:

The low-income women in Edin’s study reported that decent, trustworthy, available men were in short supply in their communities, where there were often major sex imbalances thanks to high incarceration rates.

The social science research tells us that children raised in single-parent families are more likely to be unemployed, drug-addicted and imprisoned, and because of the consequences of that mothers are making choices that perpetuate and multiply the problem.  Could Williams have come up with better examples of “unwise choices” and “pathological lives aided and abetted by the welfare state”?
     The question now is “where does this leave us?”  That’s a huge question.  Today I’ll just point out that seeing this particular article in Mother Jones gives me some hope that we can start to treat poverty less like another arena for political combat.  It seems to me that it is beyond the power of any government or political program to solve the problems of persistent poverty.  The culture of poverty in the inner city is really just one manifestation of a spiritual problem, or collection of problems, that is affecting our entire society.  Lord Acton famously said that “the vices that addle the rich devastate the poor”.  Outside the inner city there’s a whole lot of addling going on, and it’s doing real damage up and down the social scale, even if it doesn’t look as dramatic in the suburbs as it does in East Camden.  While both government and private charity have an important part in alleviating the short term consequences of social disintegration,  the long term the solution is up to us.  A good place to start is to lead lives grounded in prayer, strengthened by the Sacraments, tempered by virtue, and exemplified by our love for our neighbors, and most particularly the least fortunate.  The means making choices we may not want to make. As we enter upon the Paschal Triduum this year I’m making a special effort to offer my own prayers and sacrifices for my brothers and sisters caught in the cycle of poverty.






Sunday, April 13, 2014

Sunday Snippets - A Catholic Carnival (13 April 2014)

     Our local cathedral is a great testament to the ability of the Catholic Church to draw strength from diversity.  I am told that among our parishioners there are native speakers of at least twenty-seven different languages; there are French-Canadians, Poles, Spanish speakers of various national backgrounds, Africans from a number of different countries, and a large Vietnamese community, some of whom can be heard singing the rosary in their native language in the back of the church after the 8 o’clock Mass on Sunday mornings. 
Deer in back yard, 12 April 2014
     Why is diversity a source of strength in the Church, when the diversity relentlessly extolled in the secular world is the source of so much division and discord?  Because in the Church what unites us is much, much greater than our individual differences: “There is neither Jew nor Gentile. Neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).  Or as St. Paul says in another place, “There is one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism” (Ephesians 4:5).  When we find our true identity in Christ, all the accidents of birth, pigmentation or whatever markers are fashionable today out in The World no longer look that important.  Instead, all those things are gifts we can bring to the Wedding Feast of the Lamb, where they can be a sign of the Universality, the “Catholicity”, of the Church.
     One can catch at least a glimpse of the diversity in the Church, certainly a diversity of experiences, approaches, and ways of “being Catholic” in the group of Catholic bloggers who gather weekly at This That and the Other Thing for “Sunday Snippets” [Here!] to share their various posts of the week past.
     Here at Principium et Finis we’ve discussed a variety of things this week, including language, Scripture, the state of the world, music and prayer.  More specifically:

Monday - Anthony Esolen had some interesting and thoughtful things to say about Pope Paul VI’s encyclical Humanae Vitae.  It was indeed “A Good Piece By Anthony Esolen” [link] –


Tuesday – Esolen’s piece also sent me off on a tangent about language and translation called: “Scripture: Why Is Language Important” [link]


Wednesday – Most people are understandably reluctant to condone the killing of innocent human beings, even very small ones, which is why pro-abortion folks need to de-humanize the unborn; how effective are their arguments? “ABORTION MYTH #10” [link]


Also – A courageous woman rises above a life of abuse, sees friends murdered, and is constantly threatened with death herself, but continues to speak out against the culture and ideology that has inspired these wrongs; strident apologists for that very same culture and ideology want to shut her up.  Guess who Brandeis University sides with?  “A University Grovels” [link]


Thursday – Hey, nobody’s perfect! So why does Jesus tell us to be perfect? “Be Perfect (Throwback Thursday Edition)” [link]


Friday – One last musical selection for Lent:  “J. S. Bach, St. Matthew Passion. ‘O sacred head, sore wounded’” [link]


Also – And, to end the week, one more installment in my series of posts on the Liturgy of the Hours for laypeople: “Compline: For Tonight And Forever” [link]



Finally, the weekly  question posed to us Sunday Snippeteers is “What is your favorite part of Holy Week?”  I find all the liturgical observances of the Triduum to be particularly moving, but what has always had the greatest impact on me is the sudden silence at the end of the Holy Thursday Liturgy.

(P.S. - The deer above has nothing to do with this week's posts - he and three others were browsing in the back yard this morning, and I took the opportunity to take a picture.  Notice that the snow is still not completely gone . . .)