Sunday, October 4, 2015

"O God Beyond All Praising" - From Pope Francis's U.S. Visit

Pope Francis leading Vespers service at St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York
    I have to confess that I'm not a big fan of the early twentieth century English composer Gustav Holst.  It's not that he wasn't a gifted composer; it's just that his music, for the most part, is a little too angular for my tastes (as is the case with other composers of his era as well).  His most famous work, for instance, The Planets, has some very moving passages, and some that can even be called brilliant, but little I would consider really beautiful . . . except for one soaring, melodic passage that shines out from the “Jupiter” movement.  Holst later set this tune to the words of a patriotic poem called “I Vow To Thee My Country”; the hymnist Ralph Vaughn Williams (a friend of the composer) shortly thereafter included his setting of the melody in a volume of church music. It has since provided the musical background for a large number of Christian hymns.
    One of the better known of these, “O God Beyond All Praising” with words by Michael Perry,  has become one of my favorite hymns.  Here it is the closing song of a Vespers service with Pope Francis last weekend in New York.   I have had a hard time finding a good Catholic performance of this hymn on YouTube, and the sound quality on this one isn’t the best, but it certainly seems to be Catholic.
    One of the ironies of this tune, by the way, is that Holst’s inspiration for The Planets was not astronomy, but astrology: this tune was supposed to represent the “joviality” to be found under the Sign of Jupiter.  How wonderful that when people hear it today, it is instead almost always as a song of praise to the True God and Creator of the Universe.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

St. Therese of Lisieux, Spritual Warrior

   What can one say about St. Therese of Lisieux?  I almost didn’t say anything, expecting that the blogosphere would be filled with an abundance of inspiring and insightful commentary on this wonderful Saint, an expectation that has not been disappointed.  St. Therese, however, has a way of getting what she wants, and she is very reluctant to take "no" for an answer (just ask Leo XIII), so who am I to refuse?  I can at least add a brief comment or two to the (well-deserved) tributes to The Little Flower.
     One thing that strikes me is how well St. Therese complements St. Ignatius of Loyola, whom I have been discussing with my adolescent Theology students.  St. Ignatius urges us to “Find God in All Things”, which is one of the major themes of his Spiritual Exercises and Ignatian Spirituality in general.  St. Therese, it seems to me, takes that a step further and asks us to then serve God in all things.  That is the essence of her Little Way: we can do even something as (apparently) trivial as, say, sweeping the floor “For The Greater Glory of God” (Ad Maiorem Dei Gloriam, or AMDG, a favorite motto of St. Ignatius and the Jesuits).
     It is in this way that St. Therese is a soldier.  Not a literal soldier, of course, as St. Ignatius had been; rather, with her Little Way she is a strategist, a general, for each one of us in the Spiritual War that rages in our heart and mind between the Spirit of Christ and the Spirit of Satan.  The Devil is in the details; inattention in little things can lead to self-centeredness in little things and, given just how many little things there are, can mean a lot of time focused on ourselves.  Self-immersion leads to selfishness, which is an invitation to the Evil One to move in.  It’s best not to yield an inch of ground to the Enemy and, as The Little Flower has shown us, save it all for Jesus.  Perhaps then, God willing, we can, like St. Therese, spend our Heaven doing Good.


What's Latin Got To Do With It?

   Thus the Roman tongue is now first and foremost a sacred tongue, which resounds in the Sacred Liturgy, the halls of divinity, and the documents of the Apostolic See.  In this same tongue you yourselves again and again address a sweet salutation to the Queen of Heaven, your Mother, and to your Father who reigns on high.  This tongue is the key that unlocks for you the sources of history.  Nearly all the Roman and Christian past preserved for us, in inscriptions, writings and books, with some exceptions of later centuries, wears the vesture of the Latin tongue.
 - His Holiness Pope Pius XII's Address to the Student Youth of Rome, January 30, 1949   

     Over the last couple of days I have been watching two gentlemen going back in forth in the comboxes about the Pope’s decision not to use Latin as the official language of the upcoming Synod of Bishops.  They both make some interesting points about the place and importance of the Latin language in the life of the Church. Their spirited discussion has got me thinking not just about Latin, but about some of the distinctive features of Catholicism. 

The Pagan Roman Vergil guides the Christian Dante on his way to Paradise

A God of the Particulars . . .

     Don’t get me wrong, I have some definite opinions about Latin (after all, teaching it has been my main source of income for the past three decades), both in general and in a Church context, but I’d like to use the discussion of the language as a springboard to a broader topic.  And, really, it’s something of a paradox.  I agree with Chesterton when he says: “It [Catholicism] is the only thing that frees a man from the degrading slavery of being a child of his age.”  Catholicism gives us an allegiance that is infinitely larger than those other things that try to make a claim on us, such as political parties and ideologies, nations, athletic teams and any number of false gods, including The Conventional Wisdom; and it is not just something larger, but something truer, something that is infinitely true, because it is our connection to the Infinite Omnipotent Creator.  At the same time, one of its unique features among the world’s religions is its interest in particulars, following the lead of its Lord, of whom I wrote in another post:

. . . He is a God of particulars.  He chose a particular people to whom he first revealed himself in order that he might incarnate himself among them in the person of the God-Man Jesus of Nazareth; he carefully chose and prepared Mary as the human mother of Jesus; he likewise chose and prepared particular individuals such as Peter and Paul to carry forward the mission of Jesus.

The Church has carefully preserved, in Scripture, in creeds, and in the broader tradition these names and the names of many others: and not only Saints, but Sinners such as the various Herods and Pontius Pilate.  The Gospels usually don’t simply tell us that Jesus entered a town, but that he entered, say, Tiberias, or Betheny.  We are told about real, individual men and women in well-known places that you can see, where you can walk down the same streets.  And it doesn’t end with Biblical figures and events: the Catholic Church has carefully preserved not only the names and stories of thousands of Saints over the past two millennia, but actual pieces of their bodies as tokens that they were real people, not myths or abstractions. 

. . . And Yet Universal

     It may seem like a contradiction that Catholicism is at the same time the only truly Universal Religion and one uniquely focused on individual people and concrete things. But the living center of it all is the Incarnation, where the Second Person of the Trinity, the Eternal Word, becomes the Man Jesus of Nazareth: Infinite God in a finite body.  It is the glorified body of the Risen Christ that I find most telling here, particularly the passage where Jesus shows himself to the “doubting” Apostle Thomas: 

St. Thomas examining the wounds of Christ

Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side; do not be faithless, but believing.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:27-28

Who would have expected the Glorified Body, the eternal perfected Body, to include the horrible wounds inflicted on the first body here on Earth?  
     It seems to me that the Church, Christ’s Mystical Body on Earth, follows the model of the Master in incorporating into itself many of those things that happen to it along the way.  As St. Paul says:
We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28

I’m not saying that the various experiences and traditions (including liturgical languages) that have been part of the history of the Church enjoy the same status as Christ’s Wounds. Rather, in the passage about Thomas we see a supreme example of a pattern that is reflected in lesser things as well. It does seem that God doesn’t want anything to go to waste, and that He can use those things to join us more closely to Himself and to each other.  Just look at how the stories of the Saints, from the very earliest days of the Church, have been incorporated into her liturgical life, and how devotion to them has brought countless Catholics closer to their Lord.  The same can be said of many devotional practices. 

What’s Latin Got to Do With It?

     This is where the discussion of Latin comes in.  It’s true that it wasn’t the first liturgical language of the Church (and for much of the Church never has been).  In the Western Church, however, the Latin Church, it replaced Greek within the first few centuries, when there was still a Roman Empire.  For the past fifteen centuries Latin was the language in which great theologians (St. Augustine, St. Thomas) formulated their thoughts, and the medium through which Catholics, including most of the greatest Saints, prayed to their God and heard His Word.  
St. Augustine of Hippo, last of the Romans
     That common language, on a purely human level, is a tangible way that we share in their experience.  I often relate to people, when discussing the study of Latin in a purely secular context, my experience studying English as a graduate student.  I found that in the work of authors writing in English prior to the mid-twentieth there always seemed to be a sort of substrata of allusions and knowing nods to the literary tradition of the Greeks and Romans, and a rich admixture of Latinisms; most of this was invisible to the vast majority of students who had never studied Latin (never mind Greek) or classical literature.  There was an entire dimension to the literature they were reading that they simply missed.  Consider how much more profound a loss that is in the context of the Church, whose traditions an institutions go back to a time before any language we could call English existed.   
     Of course, the Church is not merely an institution, and our predecessors in the faith are not merely our forebears: they are our fellow Christians, participants right now from their eternal heavenly home in the same Church, which is the Mysticum Corpus of Christ our Lord. If we venerate bits of their bone and tiny snips of their clothing, surely we must derive some spiritual benefit from praying the same prayers, not just the same thoughts but the exact same words, and singing the same songs as they did?  We are both body and soul, and we need tangible things to help us understand spiritual realities.  We can’t survive on abstractions: that’s why Our Lord has given us Sacraments.  The Latin language has been one of those tangible things for most of the history of the Western Church, one of the most prominent of those things (sociologists call them “identity markers”) that help us understand who we are and with whom we belong.

Look Before Leaping

     As I said above, this is not merely about Latin, because the gentleman is correct who said that the Church has changed her liturgical language in the past, and may do so again.  No human language is essential for Salvation, and the Church will go on with or without it (Matthew 16:18); also, she continually needs to assess whether the things she has picked up on the on the way are really helpful for her mission (Ecclesia reformans et semper reformanda, if I may indulge in an antique tongue). At the same time she must also consider long and hard before jettisoning things that have a long history of uniting those of us in the Church Militant with our predecessors who are now in the Church Triumphant, and beyond them to "Our Father who reigns on high," as Pope Pius XII reminds us.  Whatever happens in the upcoming Synod (things being what they are, it makes sense to conduct the proceedings in some other language), we would be unwise to abandon completely the Language of our Fathers (Lingua Patrum) too quickly.

(This Throwback was first published in January of this year.)

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Quick! What's The Summit And Source Of The Christian Life?"

(This Worth Revisiting post was first published on August 27th, 2014, and was inspired, in part, by a post by fellow Worth Revisiting blogger Michael Seagriff. To enjoy the work of other faithful Catholic bloggers see Worth Revisiting Wednesday, hosted by Elizabeth Reardon at and Allison Gingras at

 And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question, to test him.”Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?”  And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.  This is the great and first commandment.  And a second is like it, you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  -Matthew 22:35-39

We have Company

Pope Francis at Easter Mass, 2014
     Years ago when I taught at a Catholic high school in New York State I was the faculty moderator of the student newspaper.  On one particular occasion I had brought some of the students on the newspaper staff on a trip to another school, which had at one time been a convent school, and still had a number of the good sisters in residence.  We were casually conversing in a hallway when an elderly nun began furiously shushing at us as she pointed to an open doorway.  Looking through the door I noticed, for the first time, a tabernacle on the far wall with a red presence lamp glowing next to it.  We were standing in front of the chapel, and sister wanted us to quiet down out of respect for Christ in the reserved Sacrament.  When I recounted the incident to my lovely bride, she told me that the exact same thing had happened to her a dozen years or more before when she had visited the same school as a student.  Whether it was a sort of tradition there, or the same sister had made a life’s mission of hushing boisterous guests in front of the chapel I don’t know, but the incident has stuck with me.
     I was reminded of this incident yet again the other day, in fact, when I saw this post [here] on Michael Seagriff’s blog, in which he recounts his sadness at the disrespect shown Our Lord at a Church he attended while travelling.  He says:

The loud chatter and laughter before and immediately after the end of Mass each day made silent prayer an enormous challenge if not an impossibility.  The conduct of those present gave no visible evidence that His Presence among and within them was of much importance.

I think he hits the nail right on the head here. If we knew that an important man or woman were in the room with us – the President of the United States, for instance, or some other high-ranking official – would we carry on as if he weren’t there?  And wouldn’t he command at least as much of our attention as our friends? Surely when the Lord and Creator of the Universe is in the room with us (as He is in the consecrated Eucharist), we should show even greater deference.  In fact, shouldn’t we by all rights fall to our knees in awe-struck silence? And yet what Michael Seagriff describes above is all too common; he could have been describing a church I know near me, but the same thing happens, often to a lesser degree, just about everywhere I know of (to a much lesser degree, I must admit, where the Mass is being offered in the extraordinary form).

Maybe sometimes we should "sweat the small stuff"

     I’m not just being the President of the No-Fun Club here (although I do bear that title, and proudly); the issue of reverence before the Holy Sacrament, and at Mass in general, is no small matter.  We’ve all heard some variation on “God doesn’t care what I’m wearing/ doing, etc. . . .  He just wants me to be there . . . He’s a big Guy, he can take it  . . ." blah,blah,blah.  God’s not the problem: no amount of irreverence, in fact nothing we can do at all, can harm Him.  The problem is that it’s bad for us to disrespect God, we are not honoring and obeying our Heavenly Father, the One who told Moses “Take off your sandals, the place where you’re standing is holy ground” (Exodus 3:5).  It’s right to behave differently in the immediate presence of God.
     There’s also another problem, as Michael indicates when he says “The conduct of those present gave no visible evidence that His Presence among and within them was of much importance.”  If you asked them, I’m sure the chatterboxes from the back of the church would insist they had enormous respect for the Divine Presence in the Tabernacle, and they would probably mean it.  We Catholics know, however, that mind, body, and spirit all work together.  “The Word became Flesh” (John 1:14) John the Evangelist tells us, and the Apostle James assures us that “Faith apart from deeds is dead” (James 2:26). We cannot separate what we do from what we believe, and if our behavior says, not just to others but to ourselves, that being at Mass is no different than being at a business meeting or a cocktail party, sooner or later we’ll believe it.  And that is why, after all, we have all the “smells and bells”, beautiful churches and colorful vestments, because we flesh and blood mortals need tangible signs in order to absorb spiritual realities.  Why else should the Word become Flesh? Why else have sacraments?

Summit and Source

     The spiritual reality we’re meant to absorb when we’re at Mass, of course, is the True Presence of Jesus Christ.  The first commandment is to love God (see the quote from Matthew's Gospel at the top of the page); loving our neighbor is similar to that, but subordinate. Our purpose in going to Mass, then, is not to meet our friends but to meet God Himself, face to face, and even to take him physically into our bodies.  That’s a big deal, bigger than anything else we can imagine.  We need to know it, to feel it, and to live it.  The Vatican II fathers tell us that the Mass is the “summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed; and at the same time, it is the fountain from which all her powers flow” (Sacrosanctum Concilium 10). Isn’t that worth asking your friends to wait a little while?
     I don’t doubt that most of the natterers in the pews intend no disrespect.  Most have been mislead by an elite group of liturgical ideologues who really do want to de-emphasize the Divinity of Christ, and have been acculturated to a societal ethos that has made a fetish out of informality.  We all need to do our part to model appropriate reverence, and educate others (recall that “Instructing the Ignorant” is one of the Spiritual Works of Mercy; this definitely qualifies).  We should also encourage our priests, many of whom apparently think that lay people are put off by reverence, formality, and the like.  Share with them resources like this post [here] from Fr. John Zuhlsdorf on ways to improve the celebration of the Ordinary Form of the Mass; I’m willing to bet that any church that followed Fr. Z’s advice from this article would be bursting at the seams.  The Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, and our profound encounter with Him in the Mass, is too big to ignore.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Archangels, St. Jerome, Morality, And God's Law

Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
but his delight is in the law of the LORD,
and on his law he meditates day and night.
He is like a tree planted by streams of water,
that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.
The wicked are not so,
but are like chaff which the wind drives away.
Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
 for the LORD knows the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked will perish. (Psalm 1)

   The first Psalm gives us an interesting account of God’s law.  It is explained primarily in descriptive terms: if you follow God’s Law, and take it to heart, you will be happy, but if you choose wickedness, well, then your wages will be death.  Here is one of many indications in Scripture that while God allows us to conduct our own affairs, both on an individual and societal level, he wants to be involved, and he has created us in such a way that we in turn desire his presence in our lives (yet another occasion to quote St. Augustine: “Our heart is restless until it rests in you”).  And so he has created a variety of means for communicating with us without controlling us.
     We see God’s desire to communicate reflected in different ways in our obsevances over the next two days.  Today is the feast of the Archangels: our word “angel” comes from the Greek ἄγγελοςwhich simply means “messenger”.  The function of angels, at least as far as they concern us, is as carriers of God’s messages to us.  In addition to that, tomorrow is the feast of St. Jerome, who is known primarily for creating the first complete and reliable Latin translation of the Holy Scriptures, making the Bible available to all those inhabitants of the Roman Empire who did not know Greek. We honor St. Jerome because he made the word of God available to so many people.
      I couldn’t help thinking about the Archangels and St. Jerome the other day when I was reading this column [here] by Star Parker.  Parker is reporting on a recent survey by the Pew Center showing that: 

Over the last 12 years, the percentage of Americans that think religion is losing influence in American life has increased dramatically.  In 2002, 52 percent of those surveyed said religion is losing influence.  In 2014, 72 percent of Americans said religion is losing influence. 

Star Parker

     At the same time, Parker says, “fifty-six percent say that the waning of religion is a bad thing compared to 12 percent that say it is a good thing”, and she points to a Pew poll from 2012 that found that 58 percent thought religion was “very important” against only 12 percent who believed the opposite.
     What are we to make of these figures?  One would think that the large majority decrying the decline of religion must nonetheless play some part in that decline.  I suspect that we are seeing, at least in part, the struggle between our willing spirits and weak flesh within our restless hearts: “Lord give me chastity . . . but not yet” (St. Augustine has all the bases covered).  There are also more concrete considerations.  Parker, who was at one time a single mother on welfare, and who credits the welfare reforms of the 1990’s with rescuing her from a life of dependency on government largesse, sees the baleful moral consequences of such dependence as an important proximate cause.  Most Americans, largely out of a sense of Christian Charity, supported the enormous expansion of government assistance programs starting in the 1960’s.  

Who appreciated that the program would undermine the very religious, traditional values that keep families intact, essential for the work ethic that leads people out of poverty?  Massive increases of government in the lives of low-income black families were accompanied by a tripling of single parent households and out-of-wedlock births, laying the groundwork for intergenerational poverty. 

Now it’s happening in the whole country.  As we’ve gotten more government telling Americans how to save for retirement, how to deal with their health care, how to educate their children – American families have been damaged and out-of-wedlock births have increased six-fold from 1960 to 42 percent today.  Government has displaced family.

But it’s not simply about government.  In fact, Parker finds fault with both the Statists on the left and the Libertarians on the right who see the government per se as the issue, as if adding more government or radically cutting it will alone solve our social problems.  No, “you can’t have a free society that is not also a virtuous society”, and “we can’t separate our fiscal and economic problems from our moral problems.”  And where does morality come from?  Of course . . . God’s Law.
     I want to be clear that I’m not pushing some kind of “Gospel of Prosperity”, but the discussion above does offer an example of how God knows the truth about us, and that living by that truth leads to happiness, while denying it brings on ruin.  We know it from the messages carried by his Angels, the Scriptures he inspired, and the Church he established.  As the Lord Himself tells Moses:   

For this commandment which I command you this day is not too hard for you, neither is it far off.  It is not in heaven, that you should say, 'Who will go up for us to heaven, and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?' Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, 'Who will go over the sea for us, and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?' But the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it.  "See, I have set before you this day life and good, death and evil.  If you obey the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you this day, by loving the LORD your God, by walking in his ways, and by keeping his commandments and his statutes and his ordinances, then you shall live and multiply, and the LORD your God will bless you in the land which you are entering to take possession of it.   (Deuteronomy 30:11-16)

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Progressive Catholicism, The Spirit of Vatican II, and Humanae Vitae

A Blast From The Past

   Some years ago, as part of a staff spiritual development project, I was asked to read and comment upon a number of excerpts from a book called A People Adrift: The Crisis Of The Roman Catholic Church In America by a fellow named Peter Steinfels.  I didn’t know much about the author at the time except that he and his wife had some connection with the leftish quasi-Catholic publication Commonweal.  I soon ascertained that he was very 

much of the “Spirit of Vatican II” school of Catholicism, in which the teaching and tradition of the Church often appears to serve as little more than window dressing for whatever enthusiasms are fashionable among the cultural elite.  It seems that it’s hard to maintain this stance if one is too particular about that doctrine and tradition, as I pointed out in one of my responses to the assigned reading:

Steinfels typically uses vague generalities when proposing his heterodox positions, as when he fails to cite any of the documents of Vatican II in his discussion of the council and the reform of the liturgy. Other times he simply ignores factual evidence that doesn’t fit his theses, as when he omits the scriptural background and the teaching of the Fathers in his discussion of contraception, and in his discussions of the current state of the Church he never mentions the ecclesial movements or some of the vibrant new publications spearheaded by lay Catholics.

I couldn’t possibly respond to every omission, distortion, and non-argument in his book, but still my comments grew longer and more elaborate with every chapter assigned, until finally, after reading his chapter on Humanae Vitae and contraception, I submitted a thirteen-page critique of Steinfels' argument and a defense of the Church’s centuries-old ban on contraception, with attached documentation of at least equal length.  It was an exhausting, and tiresome, exercise.
    The Catholic Left, however, never seems to tire of discussing Humanae Vitae and contraception.  Mr. Steinfels continues to opine on the topic in public, most recently just a couple weeks ago in the Washington Post [here], where he takes advantage of the publicity surrounding the Pope’s visit to the United States and next month’s Synod on the Family in Rome to renew his campaign to persuade the Catholic Church to abandon its condemnation of contraception.  

The More Things Change . . .

    As for Steinfels’ arguments, well, not much has changed over the past ten years.  To begin with, he tries to minimize the Catholic teaching on contraception with the usual red herrings and non-sequiturs:

The church’s sexual norms were woven out of the Old Testament, apostolic injunctions and classical doctrines such as Stoicism, which held passion suspect and condemned sexual acts not directed toward procreation as “against nature.”
But unlike, say, adultery or fornication or defining the conditions of a valid marriage, contraception was a relatively marginal issue until the 20th century, when reliable methods replaced a brew of folk remedies. Before that, birth control was associated with prostitution or illicit sex and decried by virtually all Christian denominations . When Anglican churches broke that pattern in 1930, followed by many Protestant denominations, Pope Pius XI reacted with a stern encyclical reasserting the condemnation. Opposition to birth control soon became a kind of identifying mark of Catholicism.
So, the implication is that a centuries-old doctrine can be done away with because 1) it’s based on the Bible, the teaching of the Early Church, and Classical moral philosophy, 2) we can accomplish the proscribed activity much more effectively now than we could in the past, 3) said activity was formerly associated with prostitutes, but now, apparently, behaving like a prostitute is no longer a big deal, and 4) the Anglicans and other Protestant bodies changed the teaching, and they’re doing just fine, aren’t they? . . .  At least the ones who are left. This last point is especially funny, given the massive decline of those ecclesial bodies after their acceptance of contraception, when the the main point of Steinfels’ essay is that banning contraception is driving decline in the Catholic Church.  In fact, along with points 1 through 3, this actually sounds more like an argument for maintaining the prohibition on contraception, doesn’t it?
Lies, Damned Lies, And Statistics
    There is also the usual unspoken assumption among the “progressive” set that Catholics can somehow vote to repeal unwelcome moral teachings.  He trots out the the notorious “600 theologians” who, in the best traditions of theological discourse, published a full-page ad in the New York Times the day after Humanae Vitae was promulgated in order to proclaim their opposition (one wonders when they found the time to study its arguments, or whether, in fact, they read it at all).  We are asked to accept uncritically the thoroughly unbiblical, uncatholic, and ahistorical notion that, on matters of faith and morals, academics in university theology departments can overrule the Successors of the Apostles.
    We also hear from the voice of the supposedly faithful laity:
Approximately 80 percent of U.S. Catholics, including the thoroughly devout, disagree with that stance [i.e. the prohibition of contraception] (support for changing the ruling is nearly as high around the world). And the vast majority ignore the teaching altogether — one study suggests that 68 percent of sexually active American Catholic women have used birth control, sterilization or IUDs.    
Blessed Paul VI, author of Humanae Vitae
This last quote is a good example of just how slippery these statistics can be: what precisely does “thoroughly devout" mean? Who gets to decide who falls into this category? How can one be “thoroughly" devout if one rejects the teaching of the Church to which one is supposedly devoted? Notice also the careful parsing of “68 percent of sexually active American Catholic women have used birth control.” First of all, I’m surprised the percentage isn’t higher, because we live in a culture where contraception is the norm, where doctors routinely prescribe birth control pills to teenaged girls without a second thought.  That makes it easy to distort the real situation: by including all women who have used birth control, Steinfels is putting in the anti-Humanae Vitae camp the growing number of women who, on the contrary, have embraced the encyclical's teaching after trying the current conventional wisdom and finding it sadly wanting.  Quite a few of the public promoters of Humanae Vitae's teachings today, in fact, are lay people who have gone this route.  More importantly, it doesn't matter how unpopular it might be, Doctrine isn't made, or unmade, by popular opinion: it's Doctrine because the Magisterial Church to which Christ gave the power of binding and loosing (Matthew 18:18) has determined that it's the truth.
The Truth
    That, finally, is the fundamental problem with the Steinfelsian approach, not only in regard to Blessed Paul VI’s encyclical, but to everything.  There is no sense of coming to terms with The Truth: everything is put in terms of a battle of opinions, as if this were a wrangling over a political platform, where whoever can concoct the more persuasive argument "wins". For instance, Steinfels writes:
At last October's Synod on the Family . . . the discussion of contraception was perfunctory.  The bishops simply called on the church [sic -lower case in original] to do a better job of propagating "the message of the encyclical Humanae Vitae." In other words, the rejection of the birth- control ban is simply a messaging problem.
Well, no, it doesn't necessarily follow that the bishops consider it a "messaging problem", which is political jargon for not “selling” your position in a way that appeals to voters. I suspect the bishops were more concerned about the fact that the Church, in the person of its bishops and priests, virtually never mentions the topic at all (for more on that point, see here).  For Steinfels, however, and for "progressive" (another political term) Catholics in general, politics seems to be the prism through which they view everything, including their faith.  Instead of the traditional definition of theology, "Faith seeking Understanding", we have merely "policy preferences seeking justification". That’s not the sort of thing that inspires ordinary people to become saints.
   And yet, saints is what we are called to be.  St. John Paul the Great used to exhort us to embrace the “Adventure of Orthodoxy”, and “Set Out Into the Deep”; Mr. Steinfels is willing to settle for “give the people what they want”.  Which one sounds like he’s talking about the Church of Jesus Christ?   

Friday, September 25, 2015

Abortion Myth #1

Every so often I re-run the Abortion Myths series; it's always relevant. Heres the first: the Big Lie of a Pre-Roe bloodbath in the back alleys is the keystone in the whole edifice of mendacious myth that the pro-abortion people use to keep folks who know better in their hearts quiet for fear that they might be exposed as "anti-woman".  But once that one falls, the other myths don't seem quite as compelling . . .  

     A few years ago (that is, at least twelve) my lovely bride and I put together a list of “Abortion Myths”, that is, arguments used by pro-abortion …er, I mean pro-choice . . . folks to justify their position, along with factual and logical refutations of those arguments.  Most of them were inspired by Randy Alcott’s Pro-Life Answers to Pro-Choice Arguments (link – the most indispensable pro-life book I’ve ever encountered: you need it!), supplemented  with material from the Elliot Institute (link), National Right to Life (link), and other pro-life sources. I made posters of the myths and put them up in my classroom; my wife sent them to the rector of the Cathedral in Portland who had them published, one myth at a time, in the parish bulletin.  A friend who worked in the parish office told us that they received significantly more feedback (overwhelmingly positive) about those than they had for anything else they had ever published.
     I think it’s time to bring back the Abortion Myths, appropriately updated and now with live links!  My plan is to post one every Week.  So, without further ado:


 MYTH: "Before Roe vs. Wade, 5,000­ - 10,000 women in the U.S. died every year from illegal abortions."

FACTS: Documented maternal deaths were, at the highest, less than a tenth of those figures, in most years far less.

1) Abortion promoters admit to fabricating the figures: "I confess that I knew the figures [5,000-10,000 maternal deaths] were totally false, and I suppose others did too if they stopped to think of it."
-Bernard Nathanson, co-founder of pro-abortion group NARAL, in Aborting America , p. 193 (1973)

2) Research shows that the most maternal deaths in a year was 388, in 1948.

 3) Antibiotics greatly reduced the death rate before the full legalization of abortion.  In 1972, the year before  Roe vs. Wade, there were 39 maternal deaths.

 4)There have been at least at least 400 maternal deaths in the U.S. from legal abortion since Roe vs. Wade.

 ­5) Every year, more than half a million unborn women die from legal abortions in the U.S.


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)

To See The Entire Abortion Myths Series Click HERE 

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Official Text of Pope Francis' Address To U.S. Congress

The official text of Pope Francis' address to the United States Congress on September 24th, 2015.

     Mr. Vice-President, Mr. Speaker, Honorable Members of Congress, Dear Friends,
I am most grateful for your invitation to address this Joint Session of Congress in “the land of the free and the home of the brave.” I would like to think that the reason for this is that I too am a son of this great continent, from which we have all received so much and toward which we share a common responsibility.

Pope Francis addressing  jU.S.  Congress (AP photo - Carolyn Kaster)

     Each son or daughter of a given country has a mission, a personal and social responsibility. Your own responsibility as members of Congress is to enable this country, by your legislative activity, to grow as a nation. You are the face of its people, their representatives. You are called to defend and preserve the dignity of your fellow citizens in the tireless and demanding pursuit of the common good, for this is the chief aim of all politics. A political society endures when it seeks, as a vocation, to satisfy common needs by stimulating the growth of all its members, especially those in situations of greater vulnerability or risk. Legislative activity is always based on care for the people. To this you have been invited, called and convened by those who elected you.
     Yours is a work which makes me reflect in two ways on the figure of Moses. On the one hand, the patriarch and lawgiver of the people of Israel symbolizes the need of peoples to keep alive their sense of unity by means of just legislation. On the other, the figure of Moses leads us directly to God and thus to the transcendent dignity of the human being. Moses provides us with a good synthesis of your work: you are asked to protect, by means of the law, the image and likeness fashioned by God on every human face.
     Today I would like not only to address you, but through you the entire people of the United States. Here, together with their representatives, I would like to take this opportunity to dialogue with the many thousands of men and women who strive each day to do an honest day’s work, to bring home their daily bread, to save money and –one step at a time – to build a better life for their families. These are men and women who are not concerned simply with paying their taxes, but in their own quiet way sustain the life of society. They generate solidarity by their actions, and they create organizations which offer a helping hand to those most in need.
I would also like to enter into dialogue with the many elderly persons who are a storehouse of wisdom forged by experience, and who seek in many ways, especially through volunteer work, to share their stories and their insights. I know that many of them are retired, but still active; they keep working to build up this land. I also want to dialogue with all those young people who are working to realize their great and noble aspirations, who are not led astray by facile proposals, and who face difficult situations, often as a result of immaturity on the part of many adults. I wish to dialogue with all of you, and I would like to do so through the historical memory of your people.
     My visit takes place at a time when men and women of good will are marking the anniversaries of several great Americans. The complexities of history and the reality of human weakness notwithstanding, these men and women, for all their many differences and limitations, were able by hard work and self- sacrifice – some at the cost of their lives – to build a better future. They shaped fundamental values which will endure forever in the spirit of the American people. A people with this spirit can live through many crises, tensions and conflicts, while always finding the resources to move forward, and to do so with dignity. These men and women offer us a way of seeing and interpreting reality. In honoring their memory, we are inspired, even amid conflicts, and in the here and now of each day, to draw upon our deepest cultural reserves.
     I would like to mention four of these Americans: Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton.
     This year marks the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln, the guardian of liberty, who labored tirelessly that “this nation, under God, [might] have a new birth of freedom.” Building a future of freedom requires love of the common good and cooperation in a spirit of subsidiarity and solidarity.
All of us are quite aware of, and deeply worried by, the disturbing social and political situation of the world today. Our world is increasingly a place of violent conflict, hatred and brutal atrocities, committed even in the name of God and of religion. We know that no religion is immune from forms of individual delusion or ideological extremism. This means that we must be especially attentive to every type of fundamentalism, whether religious or of any other kind. A delicate balance is required to combat violence perpetrated in the name of a religion, an ideology or an economic system, while also safeguarding religious freedom, intellectual freedom and individual freedoms.
     But there is another temptation which we must especially guard against: the simplistic reductionism which sees only good or evil; or, if you will, the righteous and sinners. The contemporary world, with its open wounds which affect so many of our brothers and sisters, demands that we confront every form of polarization which would divide it into these two camps. We know that in the attempt to be freed of the enemy without, we can be tempted to feed the enemy within. To imitate the hatred and violence of tyrants and murderers is the best way to take their place. That is something which you, as a people, reject.
Our response must instead be one of hope and healing, of peace and justice. We are asked to summon the courage and the intelligence to resolve today’s many geopolitical and economic crises. Even in the developed world, the effects of unjust structures and actions are all too apparent. Our efforts must aim at restoring hope, righting wrongs, maintaining commitments, and thus promoting the well-being of individuals and of peoples. We must move forward together, as one, in a renewed spirit of fraternity and solidarity, cooperating generously for the common good.
     The challenges facing us today call for a renewal of that spirit of cooperation, which has accomplished so much good throughout the history of the United States. The complexity, the gravity and the urgency of these challenges demand that we pool our resources and talents, and resolve to support one another, with respect for our differences and our convictions of conscience.
In this land, the various religious denominations have greatly contributed to building and strengthening society. It is important that today, as in the past, the voice of faith continue to be heard, for it is a voice of fraternity and love, which tries to bring out the best in each person and in each society. Such cooperation is a powerful resource in the battle to eliminate new global forms of slavery, born of grave injustices which can be overcome only through new policies and new forms of social consensus.
     Here I think of the political history of the United States, where democracy is deeply rooted in the mind of the American people. All political activity must serve and promote the good of the human person and be based on respect for his or her dignity. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” (Declaration of Independence, 4 July 1776). If politics must truly be at the service of the human person, it follows that it cannot be a slave to the economy and finance. Politics is, instead, an expression of our compelling need to live as one, in order to build as one the greatest common good: that of a community which sacrifices particular interests in order to share, in justice and peace, its goods, its interests, its social life. I do not underestimate the difficulty that this involves, but I encourage you in this effort.
Here too I think of the march which Martin Luther King led from Selma to Montgomery fifty years ago as part of the campaign to fulfill his “dream” of full civil and political rights for African Americans. That dream continues to inspire us all. I am happy that America continues to be, for many, a land of “dreams”. Dreams which lead to action, to participation, to commitment. Dreams which awaken what is deepest and truest in the life of a people.
     In recent centuries, millions of people came to this land to pursue their dream of building a future in freedom. We, the people of this continent, are not fearful of foreigners, because most of us were once foreigners. I say this to you as the son of immigrants, knowing that so many of you are also descended from immigrants. Tragically, the rights of those who were here long before us were not always respected. For those peoples and their nations, from the heart of American democracy, I wish to reaffirm my highest esteem and appreciation. Those first contacts were often turbulent and violent, but it is difficult to judge the past by the criteria of the present. Nonetheless, when the stranger in our midst appeals to us, we must not repeat the sins and the errors of the past. We must resolve now to live as nobly and as justly as possible, as we educate new generations not to turn their back on our “neighbors” and everything around us. Building a nation calls us to recognize that we must constantly relate to others, rejecting a mindset of hostility in order to adopt one of reciprocal subsidiarity, in a constant effort to do our best. I am confident that we can do this.
     Our world is facing a refugee crisis of a magnitude not seen since the Second World War. This presents us with great challenges and many hard decisions. On this continent, too, thousands of persons are led to travel north in search of a better life for themselves and for their loved ones, in search of greater opportunities. Is this not what we want for our own children? We must not be taken aback by their numbers, but rather view them as persons, seeing their faces and listening to their stories, trying to respond as best we can to their situation. To respond in a way which is always humane, just and fraternal. We need to avoid a common temptation nowadays: to discard whatever proves troublesome. Let us remember the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” (Mt 7:12). This Rule points us in a clear direction. Let us treat others with the same passion and compassion with which we want to be treated. Let us seek for others the same possibilities which we seek for ourselves. Let us help others to grow, as we would like to be helped ourselves. In a word, if we want security, let us give security; if we want life, let us give life; if we want opportunities, let us provide opportunities. The yardstick we use for others will be the yardstick which time will use for us. The Golden Rule also reminds us of our responsibility to protect and defend human life at every stage of its development.

The Pope  meeting John Boehner, Speaker of the U.S. House (NY Daily News)

     This conviction has led me, from the beginning of my ministry, to advocate at different levels for the global abolition of the death penalty. I am convinced that this way is the best, since every life is sacred, every human person is endowed with an inalienable dignity, and society can only benefit from the rehabilitation of those convicted of crimes. Recently my brother bishops here in the United States renewed their call for the abolition of the death penalty. Not only do I support them, but I also offer encouragement to all those who are convinced that a just and necessary punishment must never exclude the dimension of hope and the goal of rehabilitation.
In these times when social concerns are so important, I cannot fail to mention the Servant of God Dorothy Day, who founded the Catholic Worker Movement. Her social activism, her passion for justice and for the cause of the oppressed, were inspired by the Gospel, her faith, and the example of the saints.
How much progress has been made in this area in so many parts of the world! How much has been done in these first years of the third millennium to raise people out of extreme poverty! I know that you share my conviction that much more still needs to be done, and that in times of crisis and economic hardship a spirit of global solidarity must not be lost. At the same time I would encourage you to keep in mind all those people around us who are trapped in a cycle of poverty. They too need to be given hope. The fight against poverty and hunger must be fought constantly and on many fronts, especially in its causes. I know that many Americans today, as in the past, are working to deal with this problem.
     It goes without saying that part of this great effort is the creation and distribution of wealth. The right use of natural resources, the proper application of technology and the harnessing of the spirit of enterprise are essential elements of an economy which seeks to be modern, inclusive and sustainable. “Business is a noble vocation, directed to producing wealth and improving the world. It can be a fruitful source of prosperity for the area in which it operates, especially if it sees the creation of jobs as an essential part of its service to the common good” (Laudato Si’, 129). This common good also includes the earth, a central theme of the encyclical which I recently wrote in order to “enter into dialogue with all people about our common home” (ibid., 3). “We need a conversation which includes everyone, since the environmental challenge we are undergoing, and its human roots, concern and affect us all” (ibid., 14).
In Laudato Si’, I call for a courageous and responsible effort to “redirect our steps” (ibid., 61), and to avert the most serious effects of the environmental deterioration caused by human activity. I am convinced that we can make a difference and I have no doubt that the United States – and this Congress – have an important role to play. Now is the time for courageous actions and strategies, aimed at implementing a “culture of care” (ibid., 231) and “an integrated approach to combating poverty, restoring dignity to the excluded, and at the same time protecting nature” (ibid., 139). “We have the freedom needed to limit and direct technology” (ibid., 112); “to devise intelligent ways of… developing and limiting our power” (ibid., 78); and to put technology “at the service of another type of progress, one which is healthier, more human, more social, more integral” (ibid., 112). In this regard, I am confident that America’s outstanding academic and research institutions can make a vital contribution in the years ahead.
     A century ago, at the beginning of the Great War, which Pope Benedict XV termed a “pointless slaughter”, another notable American was born: the Cistercian monk Thomas Merton. He remains a source of spiritual inspiration and a guide for many people. In his autobiography he wrote: “I came into the world. Free by nature, in the image of God, I was nevertheless the prisoner of my own violence and my own selfishness, in the image of the world into which I was born. That world was the picture of Hell, full of men like myself, loving God, and yet hating him; born to love him, living instead in fear of hopeless self-contradictory hungers”. Merton was above all a man of prayer, a thinker who challenged the certitudes of his time and opened new horizons for souls and for the Church. He was also a man of dialogue, a promoter of peace between peoples and religions.
     From this perspective of dialogue, I would like to recognize the efforts made in recent months to help overcome historic differences linked to painful episodes of the past. It is my duty to build bridges and to help all men and women, in any way possible, to do the same. When countries which have been at odds resume the path of dialogue – a dialogue which may have been interrupted for the most legitimate of reasons – new opportunities open up for all. This has required, and requires, courage and daring, which is not the same as irresponsibility. A good political leader is one who, with the interests of all in mind, seizes the moment in a spirit of openness and pragmatism. A good political leader always opts to initiate processes rather than possessing spaces (cf. Evangelii Gaudium, 222-223).
Being at the service of dialogue and peace also means being truly determined to minimize and, in the long term, to end the many armed conflicts throughout our world. Here we have to ask ourselves: Why are deadly weapons being sold to those who plan to inflict untold suffering on individuals and society? Sadly, the answer, as we all know, is simply for money: money that is drenched in blood, often innocent blood. In the face of this shameful and culpable silence, it is our duty to confront the problem and to stop the arms trade.
     Three sons and a daughter of this land, four individuals and four dreams: Lincoln, liberty; Martin Luther King, liberty in plurality and non-exclusion; Dorothy Day, social justice and the rights of persons; and Thomas Merton, the capacity for dialogue and openness to God. Four representatives of the American people.
     I will end my visit to your country in Philadelphia, where I will take part in the World Meeting of Families. It is my wish that throughout my visit the family should be a recurrent theme. How essential the family has been to the building of this country! And how worthy it remains of our support and encouragement! Yet I cannot hide my concern for the family, which is threatened, perhaps as never before, from within and without. Fundamental relationships are being called into question, as is the very basis of marriage and the family. I can only reiterate the importance and, above all, the richness and the beauty of family life.
     In particular, I would like to call attention to those family members who are the most vulnerable, the young. For many of them, a future filled with countless possibilities beckons, yet so many others seem disoriented and aimless, trapped in a hopeless maze of violence, abuse and despair. Their problems are our problems. We cannot avoid them. We need to face them together, to talk about them and to seek effective solutions rather than getting bogged down in discussions. At the risk of oversimplifying, we might say that we live in a culture which pressures young people not to start a family, because they lack possibilities for the future. Yet this same culture presents others with so many options that they too are dissuaded from starting a family.
     A nation can be considered great when it defends liberty as Lincoln did, when it fosters a culture which enables people to “dream” of full rights for all their brothers and sisters, as Martin Luther King sought to do; when it strives for justice and the cause of the oppressed, as Dorothy Day did by her tireless work, the fruit of a faith which becomes dialogue and sows peace in the contemplative style of Thomas Merton.
     In these remarks I have sought to present some of the richness of your cultural heritage, of the spirit of the American people. It is my desire that this spirit continue to develop and grow, so that as many young people as possible can inherit and dwell in a land which has inspired so many people to dream.
God bless America!