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."


- 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,


Essential Pro-Life Resources:

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

The Elliot Institute (link)  

National Right To Life Committee (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 . . .)

Friday, April 11, 2014

Compline: For Tonight And Forever

(This is one of a series of posts on the Liturgy of the Hours for Laypeople)  

      In today's discussion of the Liturgy of the Hours I'll focus on Night Prayer, or Compline.  This office  plays a special role in the overall plan of the Liturgy of the Hours.  It complements the Invitatory Psalm with which we start the daily liturgy (see here). While the Invitatory orients us to God from the first moments of the day, reminding us of his Lordship and the challenges we are likely to face if  we fail to rely on Him, Compline draws our daily activities to a conclusion, and puts us in a proper frame of mind to surrender ourselves to the Lord’s care in sleep.  At the same time as it prepares us for our nightly sleep, however, Night Prayer also prepares us for our eternal rest in the life to come.
     Night Prayer is structured much like a shorter version of Lauds [link] or Vespers [link]: there is a Psalmody, a brief scripture reading followed by a responsory, a Gospel Canticle and closing prayer.  But there are also significant differences.  After the usual opening (“Lord, come to my assistance . . .”) we conduct an examination of conscience, followed by the Confiteor, the Kyrie or some other appropriate penitential prayer.  There is only one psalm, or two very short ones, no intercessions, and the closing prayer is followed by a Marian antiphon.  Also, in addition to being shorter, there is much less variety in Night Prayer.  Aside from minor variations for particularly important solemnities and "alleiuas" during the Easter season, the prayers all follow the same cycle every week (as opposed to a four week cycle, and much greater variation for liturgical seasons, in the other hours). 
     Compline is a wonderfully effective transitional prayer.  At the beginning we tie up any loose ends from the day in the examination of conscience and put them behind us in the penitential prayer.  If there is a hymn, it isn’t sung until after those things are done; only then are we ready to entrust ourselves to the mercy of God.  That reliance on God’s Grace is a major element in the Psalmody for Night Prayer. Sunday’s psalm, for instance (Psalm 91) begins:

            He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High
            And abides in the shade of the Almighty –
            Says to the Lord: “My refuge,
            My Stronghold, my God in whom I trust!”
The themes of night (“Lift your hands to the holy place/and bless the Lord through the night”, Psalm 134, Saturday) and sleep (“I will lie down in peace and sleep comes at once”, Psalm 4, Friday) also play a large role – as does the theme of death (“Will you work your wonders for the dead/Will the shades stand and praise you?”, Psalm 88, Thursday).
     The theme of preparing ourselves for eternal rest becomes even more explicit in the responsory that follows the short scripture verse:

            Into your hands lord, I commend my spirit.
                        - Into your hands lord, I commend my spirit.
            You have redeemed us, Lord God of Truth
                        -I commend my spirit.
            Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit,
                        - Into your hands lord, I commend my spirit.

This verse is based on Psalm 31, but is perhaps more familiar to us from Luke 23:46, when Jesus recites the first line as he is dying on the cross.  Because of its close association with the crucifixion it is replaced during the Octave of Easter with “This is the day the Lord has made/Let us rejoice and be glad”; other than that, we say this same responsory every night of the year, albeit with “alleluia, alleluia” included during the Easter season outside the Octave.
     After the responsory we find the Gospel Canticle, the Canticle of Simeon (also known as the Nunc Dimittis, from Luke 2:29-32) which begins “Lord, now you let your servant go in peace . . .”   This is the prayer of thanksgiving sung by the old prophet Simeon, to whom it had been revealed “by the Holy Spirit that he should not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ” (Luke 2:26).  This prayer forms a sort of triptych with the Canticles from Lauds and Vespers: in the morning, with the Benedictus, the focus is on John the Baptist, the Forerunner of the Messiah; at Evening Prayer in the Magnificat we see the first meeting (in utero!) of the Forerunner and the Messiah himself; at Compline the Messiah makes his first appearance in the Temple to claim his birthright, and Simeon, the aged representative of the Old Covenant, declares himself satisfied, praises God, and retires to his final repose.
     The closing prayer is appropriate to the hour; Thursday’s office,  for instance, closes with:

            Lord God,
            Send peaceful sleep
            To refresh our tired bodies.
            May your help always renew us
And keep us strong in your service.

The conclusion that follows makes explicit reference to the connection between our nightly rest and the more permanent repose to come:

            May the all-powerful Lord grant us a restful night and a peaceful death.

     We close Night Prayer with an antiphon addressed to the Blessed Mother.
     Compline, or Night Prayer, is like the other offices, but also has a special part to play in the daily Office. Even if we are laypeople praying the Liturgy of the Hours as a private devotion, it is still a liturgical, which is to say a public, prayer and by its very nature it draws us out of ourselves to unite us with Christ and his Mystical Body, the Church.  Night Prayer does that and more: as we go through the office we put our affairs in order, as it were, in the penitential rite at the beginning; after that in the prayers that follow we turn our attention from the concerns of the day to the preparation of our souls for the night to come; we entrust ourselves to the Lord's Mercy ("Into you hands I commend my spirit") and then, through the words of Simeon and the concluding verse, reach beyond our rest in this world and ask for God's Grace in the world to come.  Our final prayer is to ask for the intercession of the First Disciple, who, we know, is already enjoying the Lord's peace in Heaven, and whom we hope to join there beyond the final setting of the sun on this world.

J.S. Bach. St. Matthew Passion. "O sacred head, sore wounded"

Over this past Lent I have been posting clips from Mozart's Requiem and J.S. Bach's St. Matthew Passion that complement the penitential focus of the liturgical season.  Here is the final selection before we celebrate the Resurrection of our Lord:

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Be Perfect (Throwback Thursday Edition)

          It’s funny how different things can look from just a slightly changed perspective.  I remember as a fallen-away Catholic college sophomore responding to what must have been a Divine prompting  by picking up a copy of the New Testament and starting to read.  I can’t say why, as a cradle Catholic, I didn’t first seek out the sacraments or a priest: maybe it was a result of the catechesis I received in the ‘70’s.  In any case, I began with the first chapter of Mathew’s Gospel, and things were looking cool until I came to the Sermon on the Mount.  Here I began to entertain the unpleasant suspicion that a Journey of Faith might entail some Demands (horribile dictu!) upon me.  I continued nonetheless until I came to Chapter 5, verse 48: “You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”  I needed to be perfect? This was asking way too much, I thought.  I put the book down. It would be almost another ten years before I gave serious thought to returning to the practice of the Faith.
     And yet that passage troubled me on and off for a long time.  Odd that as a Classics major, and later a Latin teacher, it didn’t occur to me to look up the Greek word that was translated into English as “perfect”.  If it had, I might have found Jesus’ pronouncement in Matthew 5:48 less overwhelming (although at the time, honestly, I may not have wanted that badly to be saved from my sins). 
     Eventually, of course, it did happen.  As an older and (somewhat) wiser man I was explaining to my students that the Latin word perfectus had not yet completely taken on its modern connotation of flawlessness or moral perfection; its primary meaning was “finished” or “complete”, which is why the verb tense denoting completed action is called the perfect tense.  That’s when the proverbial light went off in my head: was this the word St. Jerome used in translating the Gospel from Greek in the fourth century, and if so, what did the Greek word mean?

  What I found changed my entire perception of the passage.  The Latin is indeed  perfectus, and is a translation of the Greek word teleioi. Teleioi is related to the noun telos, “end”, and the adjective signifies something that has reached its proper end, or fulfillment, i.e., is complete. I also realized, for the first time, that verse 48 is intended as a conclusion to the verses preceding (notice the word “therefore”; oun in Greek):

But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 
so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you salute only your brethren, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.  MT 5:44-48

Just as God loves completely (i.e., everyone), and forgives completely, so must we.  Now, that doesn’t mean that Jesus isn’t calling us to strive for perfection as we understand the word today: he certainly is.  In this particular passage, however, he is primarily concerned teaching us to love with a perfect love, and he gives us a “road map”, if you will, to show us how to get there. That’s still a pretty tall order, but somehow it seemed less hopelessly impossible when I could see Jesus is proposing concrete actions to move us closer.
     I don’t want to make it seem that my difficulty with one scripture verse held me back from rejoining the Mystical Body of Christ for a decade.  I needed more experience of life, of realizing the futility of trying to do things “my way”, and particularly of the Mystery of the Cross to soften my heart and lead me back to the Lord.  Nevertheless, coming to a new appreciation of Christ’s call to perfection in Matthew 5:48 removed one small but significant barrier on that journey.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

A University Grovels

Ayaan Hirsi Ali
     I spend more time than I care to quantify discussing the internal rot that’s steadily eating away at Western (formerly Christian) society as a result of self-absorbed secularism and cultural leftism.  The result of a culture that increasingly lacks its core is a loss of self-confidence, and hence the will to resist pressure from without.  The newest example (or at least it was the newest this morning) is that Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts, has reversed its decision to invite Ayaan Hirsi Ali to speak at the University and receive an honorary degree [link].  Ali, according to the Fox News Article,  “was raised in a strict Muslim family, but after surviving civil war, genital mutilation, beatings and an arranged marriage, she renounced her faith in her 30s”.  Although born in Somalia, Ali served for a time as a member of the Dutch Parliament, is an activist for women’s rights, and an energetic critic of Islam (and particularly its treatment of women). 
     She sounds like an interesting speaker, doesn’t she? And yet there are those who don’t want her to speak.  Again from the Fox article:

“This is a real slap in the face to Muslim students," said senior Sarah Fahmy, a member of the Muslim Student Association who created the petition [to revoke Ali’s invitation] said [sic] before the university withdrew the honor. "But it's not just the Muslim community that is upset but students and faculty of all religious beliefs," she said. "A university that prides itself on social justice and equality should not hold up someone who is an outright Islamophobic."

Ali appears to be a person who has suffered from a lack of social justice and equality, but the Muslim Student Association says she’s “Islamophobic” so . . . what is a University to do?
     Act decisively, of course.  Brandeis withdrew its invitation, and issued the following statement:

She is a compelling public figure and advocate for women's rights, and we respect and appreciate her work to protect and defend the rights of women and girls throughout the world . . .  That said, we cannot overlook certain of her past statements that are inconsistent with Brandeis University's core values.

Can it be that it is against Brandeis’ “core values” to criticize people who beat you, mutilated your body, murdered your associates (see Theo Van Gogh link) and have repeatedly threatened you with a most grisly death?  Or has her “Islamophobic” speech been that inflammatory?  Here’s the only sample supplied in the news story:

Once [Islam is] defeated, it can mutate into something peaceful. It's very difficult to even talk about peace now. They're not interested in peace. I think that we are at war with Islam. And there's no middle ground in wars.

Hmm. I don’t see any “hate”, nor fear as such.  Ali is not calling anyone names, nor is she demeaning or disparaging any people.  She is critiquing a mind-set and a movement.  She is certainly not displaying any “phobia”, which is a psychological term denoting a compulsive,  irrational fear of something.  Ali’s concerns are not only grounded in reason, they are based on long, hard experience, and permanently branded onto her body.  Under the circumstances, I find her language remarkably measured and dispassionate.  And in any case, I don’t know of anyone who has shown themselves to be less afraid (i.e., “phobic”) of Islam.
     Brandeis University, on the other hand, is afraid.  Don’t get me wrong, I understand why; this is no irrational fear.  They know what happened to Theo Van Gogh, and how the Islamic world reacted to the publication of Muhammed cartoons, or to Pope Benedict’s Regensburg Address, and on and on.  They are no doubt concerned about the safety and well-being of their students and staff. Too bad they didn't say so in their statement, rather than seeming to endorse the real "hate speech" directed at Ayaan Hirsi Ali.  It’s a sad commentary on how diminished we have become when a great university so obsequiously sides with the bullies against so courageous a victim.


MYTH: “Abortion doesn’t kill a child, it just terminates a pregnancy; after all, the unborn isn’t a human being, it’s just a clump of cells.”

TRUTH: The unborn is, by any objective measure, a human being from the moment of fertilization.

First, a “being”, that is, a living entity:

- Jerome LeJeune, the professor of genetics who discovered the chromosome pattern of Down Syndrome, was simply expressing the nearly unanimous scientific consensus when he said “After fertilization has taken place a new human being has come into being.”

-When the U.S. Senate judiciary committee invited pro-abortionists to present experts to testify about when life begins, they were unable to produce even one expert witness to specifically state that life begins at any point other than conception or implantation (from Pro-life Answers to Pro-Choice Arguments).

Not only is the unborn indisputably alive, he or she is incontestably a human:

-The living entity in the womb has human DNA; were a lab to test a DNA sample, it would be indistinguishable from that of a newborn, a twelve year old or a sixty year old.

-From the first moment of fertilization, the entire genetic blueprint for a unique individual is already present; the child’s sex, hair and eye color, height  and skin tone are already determined.

-Before the earliest surgical abortions the unborn child already has every body part and organ he or she will ever have (females already have all their own eggs in their ovaries).

The unborn child is not a part of the mother’s body: no part of the mother’s body has different DNA or blood type, or its own heart lungs or liver.

The unborn child is simply a human being at a particular stage of development, as is toddler, an adolescent, or an adult.  The only objective, verifiable scientific conclusion is that human beings begin their lives at conception.


Watch an amazing 3D ultrasound video of an unborn child at 14 weeks after conception posted by Dr. Rafael Ortega Munoz:

Essential Pro-Life Resources:

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

The Elliot Institute (link)  

National Right To Life Committee (link)  

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Scripture: Why Is Language Important?

     My family doesn’t attend the Extraordinary Form of the Mass on a regular basis, but we go whenever we can.  One of the things that always impresses me (among many) is the fact that every Mass closes with a reading of the “Last Gospel” which is to say the opening of John’s Gospel:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God  The same was in the beginning with God.  All things were made by him: and without him was made nothing that was made.  In him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.
     There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.  This man came for a witness, to give testimony of the light, that all men might believe through him.  He was not the light, but was to give testimony of the light.   That was the true light, which enlighteneth every man that cometh into this world.  He was in the world, and the world was made by him,  and the world knew him not.
     He came unto his own, and his own received him not.  But as many as received him, he gave them power to be made the sons of God, to them that believe in his name.  Who are born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.  And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us,  (and we saw his  glory, the  glory as it were of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth. (Jn 1:1-14)

St. Jerome Visited by Angels by Bartolomeo Cavarozzi
     On those occasions when I have been granted the privilege of teaching a religion course in the High
School where I work I always start with this passage because it is the best introduction to the Catholic understanding of the Sacramental Principle. "And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us"!  Catholic and Orthodox Christians have always understood the Embodiment in the Man Jesus Christ of the Eternal Word who existed before the creation of the universe to be a pattern that is repeated in countless lesser embodiments: the men and women whom God chooses to carry out his will, such as prophets, evangelists, and saints, not to mention his ordained clergy; his Church and its sacraments; the events of Salvation History and everyday life.  “The Heavens proclaim the Glory of God!”, says the Psalmist in Psalm 19:1.  Accordingly, things, details and events are important.  That’s why the early Church was always careful to emphasize that Jesus was a actual man who lived in specific places under certain verifiable Roman officials such as Pontius Pilate.  The details matter.
     I couldn’t help but reflect on these things as I read the Anthony Esolen article that was the subject of yesterday’s post (here). He starts out saying:

I recently read Pope Paul VI’s encyclical Humanae Vitae the way it was principally meant to be read: in Latin.  There’s something illuminating, I find, about reading in the original a work that is familiar to you in translation.  It becomes unfamiliar.  You can’t catch the gist of a clause unless you pay unusually close attention to the words.  You can’t dismiss something before you have quite determined what that something is.

     I had been thinking of writing about just this idea myself, because I apply the same principle in many of my posts dealing with Holy Scripture (see here and here), where looking at a word or words in the original Greek, and maybe the way it was translated into Latin just a few centuries later, is not so much a matter of “linguistic analysis” as it is simply a way of loosening up the meaning for me after the English translations have become so familiar that they have calcified, and no longer sink in.
     It’s also true that having to work through a language like Latin or Greek, where the syntax follows different principles, forces you to examine the language much more closely than if you were simply reading it in English.  Some of my students know this first hand. A few years ago I was searching through the encyclicals of John Paul II looking for some “modern Latin” for a third year Latin class.  One day I heard some of the students in the class teasing one of their classmates because he had visited a store called “Condom Sense” (yes, it is what it sounds like).  “Of course!” I thought, “Humanae Vitae!”  Which we did, in the original language.  Those students knew Pope Paul’s teaching inside and out (which is not to say that they were pleased to know it).
     Another problem with translations is that invariably many of the connotations and possible meanings of the original language will be lost.  This is always the case, but even more so in the latter half of the twentieth century, when an approach called “dynamic equivalence” was popular among translators, in which the translator would render what he thought the meant, as opposed to what it actually said.  The result was “translations” that were really interpretations, with much of the concrete and vivid imagery flattened or erased, and thus the distinctness, and sense of embodiment.  Think of the recently replaced translation of the Mass: “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you . . .” as opposed to “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof . . .” The so-called “dynamic” version is abstract and remote, the new more literal translation is something you can visualize, besides retaining a clear connection to the Biblical source (the Roman centurion with a sick servant in Matthew 8:8).
     So, you might be saying, "I don’t know Latin or Greek: where does that leave me?"  Well, it’s never too late to start learning, but in any case there are things you can do in reading Scripture, for instance, that can help you achieve some of the same result.  You can read the Bible with a good Catholic commentary, for instance.  It can also be helpful to compare different translations. I would advise sticking to approved Catholic translations. I would also make a point of including the Douay-Rheims version, which for a long time was the Catholic Bible in English; it is from the same era as the King James ( a few decades earlier, in fact), and makes a point of sticking much closer to the original text than has been the fashion in recent years (the passage from John's Gospel at the beginning of the post is from this translation). Working with the language in this way can help to free it from the choices of a particular translator.
     Here’s my final point: God speaks to us through his creation, including the words of Holy Scripture written by men under inspiration of the Holy Spirit.  The words of those Scriptures are themselves filled with all manner of vivid concrete images and events.  The more tangible we can make them, the better we will understand.