Monday, December 26, 2005

Where the news really is -- and was missed

It was a sad Christmas in St. Louis. There are all kinds of stories this morning about the illicit Christmas Mass that Father Marek Bozek presided over at St. Stanislaus Church in St. Louis. It was illicit because Father Bozek left his assignment at the Cathedral in Springfield, Mo., without his bishop's permission, and indeed, against his bishop's will, and was "hired" by the six-member board at St. Stan's.

This action, of course, put them outside of the Catholic Church for a very simple reason -- laity do not have the authority to hire their priests. They are assigned by their bishops, as the successors of the apostles, to wherever the bishop requires them.

Anyway, the stories say that anywhere from 1,000 to 2,000 people were present at this illicit Mass and that, therefore, anywhere from 1,000 to 2,000 people now have gravely sinful matter to bring to Confession.

But one wonders -- how many people were at Mass at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis? Or at the Old Cathedral? Or at St. Agatha's where Archbishop Raymond Burke transferred the Polish apostolate to? I can bet there were a lot more than 2,000 people in those three places combined. And how many were at the rest of the parishes throughout the City of St. Louis? Then, St. Stan's becomes a drop in the bucket and one then wonders what the media fuss is all about.

One also wonders what the Archbishop said in his homily. But, of course, all the reporters were at the schismatics' church and not at the Cathedral to hear the Archbishop, or at St. Agatha's to see how many Poles are being faithful to the Church. All of this tells you a lot, not about what's going on in St. Louis, but about where the affections of the media lie.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

'A darker subtext'?

Mr. Hetero Massachusetts 2006 I won't be. I don't live there anymore and I can't rip any magazine, never mind one of Oprah's.

But is there "a darker subtext," as a critic in The Republican story states? It depends on what you mean by "darker." In Massachusetts, the only state in the Union where there is an attempt at the oxymoronic "homosexual union" of "marriage," the clear text of Rev. Crouse's contest is a poke-in-the-eye at the homosexual and PC establishment. Nothing could be clearer or lighter.

Now perhaps there will be some who object on the grounds that Jesus would never have poked fun at His enemies. That's not so. When the Pharisees and teachers of the Law came to Him to ask Him about divorce, His reply was clear sarcasm. "Have you never read.....?" He begins asking them. These, as Dr. Scott Hahn has rightly pointed out, are the teachers of the law, the ones who know the Torah inside and out, including Genesis. So for Jesus to ask them if they've never read Genesis is also a poke-in-the-eye.

Homosexual "marriage" is a laughable concept, and Rev. Crouse is only pointing out the obvious with a bit of good humor.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

I Am David

No, I'm not David. But there's a little-known film out on DVD called I Am David that stars Ben Tibber, Jim Caviezel and Joan Plowright. Hristo Naumov Shopov, the Romanian who played Pilate in The Passion of the Christ, is also in it, though not credited.

It's a low-budget film and you can tell it to a certain degree in the scenery and some other aspects. But that and one choice of music are really my only complaints about this film. Otherwise, it's absolutely fantastic.

David is a boy who has been raised in a Soviet labor camp in Bulgaria and lost both of his parents to the regime. We meet him as he is escaping from the camp with help from someone, though we are not sure whom. He carries with him some papers that he is not allowed to look at or let anyone else see until he gets to Denmark. As he makes his way down to Greece to get on a ship bound for Italy and on his journey through Italy to get to Denmark, he has flashbacks of his time in the camp, especially of a man named Johannes (Caviezel).

The voice we hear telling David how to escape tells him to trust no one, something David keeps in his mind. But he's obviously torn as he meets up with all kinds of people who could help him very easily if he would but open himself to them.

As David has more flashbacks, we see more of what has happened in the labor camp with Johannes. We know at the outset of the film that Johannes has been shot in one of those infamous concentration camp line-ups, but we don't know why. As time goes on though, what we find is Caviezel in another Christ-like role and Naumov Shopov in an almost Pilate-like role.

Catholic imagery abounds in this film and one of the final scenes is nearly too rich in it to describe as we hear Mozart's Ave Verum Corpus being sung by a small-town church choir (actually it's the Westminster Choir, I believe, but the actors make it look pretty authentic).

Get this film and soak it in. Lessons about trust, love, sacrifice and redemption are all in it.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Considerations on the new document from the Vatican

There are so many people who have commented on the new Instruction from the Congregation for Catholic Education that to put up the links would take up a whole blogging page. But here's the gist of what they're saying --

"This document is supposed to deal with the sex abuse scandal. It's not going to do it because homosexuals don't do pedophilia. Anyway, the Vatican doesn't understand that homosexuality isn't something that comes and goes; it's inherent and can't be changed. Besides, if a priest is supposed to be celibate, what difference does it make what his orientation is?"

First things first. The document isn't supposed to deal with the sex abuse scandal. That is a myth perpetrated by the MSM. The document was begun in 1996, six years before the Boston Globe's stories on Cardinal Law.

I'm not going to really comment on the claim that homosexuals don't do pedophilia because it's tedious -- and wrong. Suffice it to say that pedophiles come in all sizes, shapes and orientations, including homosexuals -- just ask the North American Man-Boy Love Association (NAMBLA). Ask the FBI and other law enforcement agencies that break up child sex rings, a lot of them where boys are gotten and brought in for men from all walks of life -- from the CEOs of major companies to the janitors of those companies -- to abuse. And the fact that the vast majority of the boys abused by priests were those who were in their adolescence and in the prime of their lives speaks for itself.

Now that those two points are cleared up, what the document is supposed to deal with is a problem in many seminaries that has been there ever since the end of the Council and that is a prevelance of homosexuality. I would guess that many "gay" groups would rather not have the issue addressed at all and would rather see the priesthood riddled with priests who are "celibate but gay."

But all that does is undermine the Church's teaching ability on this and other very serious moral matters. If a priest has a homosexual orientation and is part of the "gay" culture, or even if he's not part of the culture but has sympathies towards it and friends in it, then he is not really going to be able to address firmly the issues of homosexuality, contraception, abortion and a whole host of other sexual and biological moral matters. He will be seriously compromised.

The reason for that is because homosexuality itself is intrinsically disordered. The phrase "intrinsically disordered" raises, of course, all sorts of hue and cry about how that must mean the homosexual himself is, therefore, intrinsically disordered. Not true. The person struggling with same-sex attraction (SSA) is as disordered as the adulterer, thief, murderer, wife-beater, liar, child abuser, cheat, blasphemer, tyrant, traitor -- in other words, as disordered as the rest of us.

But the nature of this intrinsic disorder is different from these other sins. St. Paul says that those who do other wrongs sin outside of themselves, while a sexual sin is a sin against our ownselves. Because of that, anyone who yields to these temptations or who has sympathies towards them can't think clearly about the nature of the sin and those sins which are close cousins to it. So a priest who has homosexual proclivities cannot teach the fullness of the faith.

The claim that SSA is permanent is nonsense. Why is it that a female basketball star is not questioned when she claims she just became homosexual? Why are those folks who were in the homosexual lifestyle, who went through therapy and are now no longer struggling with SSA ignored? One of the "gay" publications had this headline: "Vatican to gays: Grow up!" Well, yes. We all need to grow up and those in SSA situations may need it a lot more than those who are not.

What really peeves me is that many men who claim to be homosexuals are those who were abused by other men. That warped their image of themselves. In that case, it's not genetic anymore than when a tree has barbed wire placed next to it and the tree grows around the wire and eventually engulfs it, is genetic

Finally, to the last claim. The Church rightly says that a man with homosexual tendencies can’t fulfill that role because he can’t properly relate to men and women. A man who claims to love another man as a man and a woman would normally love each other is not relating properly to men and women. It is simply impossible.

Besides that, there is the fact that two men who claim to love each other as men and women normally would cannot be fathers. It is biologically impossible. Well, a priest has to be a spiritual father and the spiritual is reflected in the physical. If a man cannot bring forth biological children because he is suffering from SSA, then he has no business trying to act like an alter Christus.

Plus, if a man does not look at the vocational options (marriage, priesthood, religious life, single life) available to him and freely choose one over the others, then there is something wrong with his choice. So if a man looks at the priesthood because he cannot marry a woman because of SSA, then he has not made a free choice for the priesthood and the validity of his vows can be called into question. (Of course, the Vatican hasn't said anything like that -- this is merely my interpretation of the law, for what little it's worth.)

This reflection of the spiritual in the physical is what a sacrament is all about, isn’t it? Take a look at Baptism. We don’t baptize with Coke or beer or even dirty water. We baptize with clean water because it reflects what happens to the soul. The Holy Spirit cleanses the soul from original sin just like clean water cleanses the body from dirt.

We use physical signs that point to a greater reality, but the signs have to be an accurate reflection of the spiritual reality. This doesn’t mean, though, that other things are bad. Beer isn’t bad because it can’t be used for Baptism. Rice isn’t bad because only wheat can be used for the Eucharist. Canola oil isn’t bad because only olive oil can be used for anointing.

In exactly the same way, women or married men aren’t bad in the eyes of the Church because we can’t be ordained. It doesn’t reflect our worth, it only shows that we can’t accurately point to what the sign of ordination is supposed to be – an alter Christus, another Christ. In plain and simple terms, Jesus wasn’t married and Jesus was a man. It’s that easy. So women and married men cannot reflect that image in a sacramental way. And neither can someone who has such a serious disorder as homosexual attraction. (Neither, by the way, can someone who has a tendency to murder, to fornication, to theft, to serious selfishness, or to any of the other deadly sins.) If a man can't act in the way he was created to act, he cannot accurately reflect the truth of who God is.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

What's behind the noise on the priesthood

This is a superb article by a former Episcoplian now Catholic priest who teaches at Providence College. He gets to the heart of why the priesthood is so contended these days, and amazingly enough, it begins in the 16th century.

Monday, December 05, 2005

The new Narnia movie

My wife and I were among the lucky ones to see a pre-screening of The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe this past weekend. So how was it? Well, here's a long-winded review:

I had the privilege to take a full course in C.S. Lewis when I was in college at Franciscan University of Steubenville. I learned a lot in that class from Dr. David Ard, who now teaches at Mount Mercy College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. One of the things I learned is that Lewis was steeped in the Christian faith and in mythology (or should I say that the other way around?).

That is clear from his Chronicles of Narnia. Here, not only do you meet Aslan (a Christ-like figure modeled on the messianic title, Lion of the Tribe of Judah), you also meet fauns, satyrs, Bacchus, centaurs, minotaurs and all other manner of mythical creatures. Lewis knew mythology inside and out. He studied it extensively before his conversion and he taught it at Oxford. This was no small part of his life.

But what it seems to me a lot of people are missing is that after his conversion to Christianity, Lewis subordinated this to Christ. Yes, he knew a "good yarn" when he saw 0ne and wrote one. And yes, as many commentators have pointed out, he did not start writing the Chronicles as an exercise in Christian allegory, but rather he simply started writing about a little girl going through a wardrobe into a land in winter and meeting a faun. And he liked it, as well he should have. It is a good yarn.

However, there's something more that people are missing. Lewis, for as much as he didn't like the Catholic Church (despite his close friendship with JRR Tolkien whose Catholicism permeates all of The Lord of the Rings), was heavily influenced by the Catholic Church in some of his thinking -- primarily that Christ is the fulfillment of all of the world's hopes and dreams, not simply the fulfillment of Jewish prophecy. He certainly is that, but, as Michelangelo painted the Greek Sybils in his masterpiece on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, all the good that the pagan world every hoped for -- from Plato to Aristotle to Virgil to Buddha -- is found in Jesus Christ.

That is why Lewis can have characters such as Bacchus in his stories. In Prince Caspian, for instance, Susan and Lucy are with Aslan and come across a wild outdoor party with a young man and a bunch of girls, not a party as 21st century American adults think of, but a wild game and eating without manners. Here is their conversation:
"I say, Su, I know who they are."
"The boy with the wild face is Bacchus and the old one on the donkey is Silenus. Don't you remember Mr. Tumnus telling us about them long ago?"
"Of course. But I say, Lu--"
"I wouldn't have felt safe with Bacchus and all his wild girls if we'd met them without Aslan."
"I should think not," said Lucy.
It is Aslan who brings these mythical creatures into right order. It is his divine nature that brings them to the way they were created to be.

With that in mind, the abundant dualistic commentary on The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is really off the mark. Lewis did not think in an "either/or," nor even in a "both/and" mode, but rather that the one (paganism) is subjected in truth to the other (Christianity).

So when it came to watching the film, it's easy to see that Andrew Adamson is not comfortable with the one being subjected to the other. It seems to me, rather, that he's more interested in the bottom line and does not effectively address the issue of who Aslan is and his overwhelming presence in the books.

The film is well shot and the scenery in it is stunning. The special effects are quite good, and it's clear that there is a lot of influence from The Lord of the Rings. (Of course, the film was partly shot in New Zealand, the same place as LOTR, and Adamson used WETA Workshop for a lot of the digital effets as well as things like the swords.)


The storyline follows the book very closely -- the basics are there and I have no complaints about that. Interestingly, Adamson chose to focus a lot on the children's home life in London, something which Lewis hardly glances at. In fact, we begin with the bombing of London and the children getting out of the house as Nazi bombs fall. Edmund runs back -- against his mother's and brother's wishes -- to get a photo of their father, who is off in the war.

But when they do get to Narnia, Peter and Susan keep looking back wanting to get back to London. While in the book this does happen when they first get in, once they've gotten to the Beaver's house, that's long forgotten.

What I noticed most, though, is that there is something missing to the dynamics, a certain sense of longing, of connection to Aslan. When the Beavers first mention Aslan, there's no sense of awe and wonder on the children's faces -- they sit rather impassively, almost in a "So?" attitude -- completely opposite of what Lewis went into great detail to describe. The dynamics between Susan, Lucy and Aslan are low-key. I was left wondering what it was that was between them that they would stay with him, except for the fact that it was the plot of the story.

There is also an irritating aspect about Peter's character -- can no one in the Hollywood elite believe anymore that it is possible for a man to be single-minded in good character? Why is it that leading men are being portrayed as having so many doubts about their identity and should they do what they're supposed to do? Peter Jackson did this to the character of Aragorn in LOTR. Tolkien was clear that Aragorn knew who he was and what he was doing and where he was going. Jackson and his team of writers, though, would have none of it. Aragorn was portrayed as confused, perplexed, unsure of what he had to do and if he was willing to do it. They did an even worse job to Faramir, Boromir's brother. Tolkien was firm that Faramir was by no means tempted to take the Ring, but Jackson has Faramir not only wanting it, but kidnapping Frodo to get at it. Only later does he realize he's wrong.

Peter Pevensie is shown just the same way. He keeps wanting to go home. His mother told him to keep an eye on his three siblings and he's taking that charge seriously -- so seriously that he doesn't want to stay in Narnia, and he certainly doesn't want to lead an army against the White Witch. In the heat of the battle, he yells at Edmund to get the girls and go home, something which the Peter that Lewis portrayed would never have done.

This seems to be a misplaced feminism -- the man watching out for the home front sort of thing. While that may be OK in another story, it falls short here. That's because Lewis's Peter is concerned about honor and virtue and winning the battle for Aslan, to whom he has sworn fealty. There is no "I don't care about a prophecy" attitude at all. Aslan has won over Peter's heart and Peter will do what is needed to save Narnia from the White Witch.

What is also disappointing is that there is no clear Christian theme here. Oh, some lines come out, but it is not the overarching theme. In fact, some things get downplayed. After Aslan has been raised and the stone table split in two, Lewis has Aslan say, "It means, that though the Witch knew the Deep Magic, there is magic deeper still which she did not know. Her knowledge goes back only to the dawn of time. But if she could have looked a little further back, into the stillness and darkness before Time dawned, she would have read there a different incantation..." In the film, that line about "a magic deeper still" is missing and he only talks about the deep magic. Which means that we have a dualistic outlook here -- two gods of equal strength who are at war with each other. And that is definitely not what Lewis had in mind.

Was there anything good about it? Oh yes -- the battle scene was terrific. Borrowing some techniques from Peter Jackson, Andrew Adamson makes an excellent battle. The creatures on the Witch's side look a lot like Orcs from LOTR, but, hey -- how many evil-looking creatures can you come up with? The battle kept you in suspense, which was quite an accomplishment considering you already know how it's going to turn out.

The character of the White Witch was played to icy and chilling effectiveness by Tilda Swinton. She personally has an enigmatic beauty about her, something which she used to great effect in playing the witch, because while you were attracted, you knew subconsciously that there was something evil about her that you could not quite put your finger on. No wonder Edmund felt the attraction.

Edmund was well-played as a brattish sort of boy who couldn't stand his family by Skandar Keynes. William Moseley's Peter would have been good, had it not been for the direction Adamson took him in. Anne Popplewell's Susan was OK, but Georgie Henley as Lucy was much better done. However, there was, as I said before, that certain spark that was missing in their relationship with Aslan, which was due to scripting and directing, more than their acting abilities.

All in all, it's a good yarn. But while it's being marketed by the same people who marketed The Passion of the Christ, this isn't something that is anything on that order. Remember that this is Disney, and Disney has one thing in mind -- the bottom line, not the truth of Jesus Christ.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

The Christmas enterprise

There are people clamoring now for a boycott of Target since this company supposedly refuses to allow the words "Merry Christmas" in its advertising. In fact, a lot of companies have decided not to use the word "Christmas" in the annual winter money grab to the end of the year, the time when most retail businesses make the most money. That's something that a lot of Christians are upset about.

I can understand that. The Christmas shopping season, which, according to the Census Bureau, gives retail about 15 percent of its annual revenue in one month, came about because of, well, Christmas.

Yes, that Christmas -- the Christian holiday celebrating the birth of the One whom we recognize as the Son of God, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, Who, in His great mercy and compassion, took up human flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mary and became, first a human embryo, then a human blastocyst, then a human zygote, then a human fetus (Latin for "little one"), and then was born. (The word "Christmas" comes from the compounding of "Christ" and "Mass," the Mass celebrated for Christ's birth, much like the "Michelmas," the Mass for St. Michael the Archangel, of Jane Austen's writing.)

This is not something that is secular in nature, not something we can pass a law on or do business with. It is religious pure and simple.

Christmas was not even celebrated in the northern part of the U.S. when the Pilgrims first came here. They were Puritans who wanted nothing whatsoever to do with what the Vatican liked and since the Vatican liked Christmas, they didn't celebrate it. It wasn't until the German Catholics came that such things as Christmas trees became popular. And when the Irish and others from Catholic countries like Poland, Belgium and France came over, they too brought their Christmas traditions with them and that's when the American penchant for making a buck came into play. (Of course, the southeastern part of the country probably had something going since it was settled first by the Spaniards, who were thoroughly Catholic.)

Christmas is a time for giving gifts and when crass American entrepeneurship grasped this, they ran with it. So for American businesses now to turn this into simply a "holiday" season, when its origins are strictly religious and specifically Christian, is to turn its back dishonestly on its roots.

However, let's look at this from a different perspective. For Christians to be upset about this betrays something in their attitudes -- it betrays that they think business has the upper hand on Christianity, that the Christian faith needs business to affirm its right to exist. But that is not the case. What does it matter if Target, whose only purpose in life is to make money for its shareholders, decides to start calling it 'holiday shopping? How does that effect the Christian celebration of Christmas? It really shouldn't.

This is not unlike the attitude betrayed when minorities complain that businesses don't advertise to them. What's the big deal? It appears they don't feel worthwhile because Sears, or whomever, is ignoring Hispanics. But since when has one's worth depended on whether or not Target, Wal-Mart, Gillette, or any other company advertises to you? That seems to me to show that their sense of value comes from material things -- hence materialism has made serious inroads into people's hearts.

Christians at this current point in time should still be celebrating Advent -- Christmas is still three weeks away and we're supposed to still be preparing for it via prayer, fasting and works of mercy (St. Francis of Assisi used to call it his "little Lent"). I find nothing in the tradition -- or in the Scriptures for that matter -- that says Christians have to spend the weeks leading up to Christmas buying gifts, going to parties, gorging ourselves on food and drink for a holiday that has not yet even come, and shopping in the local mall while men in overstuffed red suits and fake white beards parade around getting wish lists from little kids setting up their expectations and setting up their parents for serious credit card debt.

I remember some saying of Jesus, something about making His Father's house into a den of thieves. Not, of course, that Christmas is the Father's house, but I think the analogy works to a certain extent.

Why are we insistent that these cultural and corporate elites tell their employees that they can say Merry Christmas to their customers? Are we Christians abandoning our duty to evangelize and saying corporate America has to do it for us? If we've haven't been preaching the Gospel to the Macy's, Dayton's and Walton's, then embarrassing them into allowing the word "Christmas" into their advertising isn't going to help them a whole lot. Nor is it going to help the general cause of evangelization too much, either, since it only makes Christians look like demanding brats.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Look for me at UPI

Starting this Friday, I will have a regular weekly column at UPI's Religion and Spirituality Forum (click on the Columns dropdown menu to get to it). My column, which will be entitled Epiphany (original, isn't it?), will focus on the Sunday readings.

I will be joining quite an array of other columnists from across the religious spectrum, including a Jew who believes in the Messiah and who has AIDS, a believer in Kabbalah and someone taking a Masters in Earth literacy. I hope it proves to be interesting.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

The new document

Well, it was bound to happen. So many people were after this document that it was inevitable that it would be leaked to the media before the Church could officially produce it.

That document is, of course, the Instruction concerning the criteria of vocational discernment regarding persons with homosexual tendencies, considering their admission to seminary and to Holy Orders. I might have more on the document itself later on, but I wanted to look at the media coverage first.

I did a search on Google News after Phil Lawler broke the story on that the document had been published by an Italian news agency named Adista. Here was the first headline to AP's story: "Vatican says active homosexuals unwelcome in priesthood." The next headline read: "Vatican: Sexually active gays unwelcome." Then the Aussies came out with this one: "Gays and supporters unwelcome: Vatican." The Baltimore Sun came in with this unique headline: "Vatican disallows active gays for priesthood."

What's wrong here? The problem is that word, "unwelcome." This is not a matter of welcoming or not, as if the priesthood was some sort of club that is generally open to all. This is a matter of whether or not the man is fit to become a priest or not. There are many men who are not able to become a priest -- those who are unbaptized, those who are married, those who are mentally unstable, those who have certain physical handicaps (like no hands). These conditions do not make them "unwelcome" to the priesthood; it makes them unfit for it. (Yes, I can say unfit without a bit of difficulty as I am married and therefore unfit for the priesthood. It's simply a fact of life.)

While the Sun is to be commended for their efforts at making a better headline, it's still not correct. Active "gays" have never been allowed, at least by the rules, into the priesthood. The AP story notes that a 1961 document from the same congregation makes that perfectly clear. It was a matter that certain seminary rectors and bishops made the allowances for them to enter the seminary, contrary to all the teachings, tradition and disciplines of the Church.

Later headlines messed it up, though in a different way. CBS said, "Active gays unwanted as priests." CathNews in Australia said, "Gays in priesthood document leaked." And then starting with Philly 'Burbs, the headline became: "Vatican rejects actively gay priests." All of these headlines are inaccurate. The document was on the admission of candidates to the seminary, not on those who are already ordained.

And then it changed to, "Vatican affirms gays banned from priesthood," which, of course, is also not true since there are active homosexuals as well as those who are celibate who are in the priesthood and are not going to be kicked out. And the document is about admitting candidates to the seminary, not about priests. (Didn't I already say that?)

Of course, it's also going to be almost humorous to watch the media slaughter the document and misinterpret it to the nth degree. I say "almost" because the vast majority of Catholics are going to believe what the secular press say about it -- which is certainly not humorous, but rather very scary indeed.

Monday, November 21, 2005

The Solemnity of Christ the King

The Solemnity of Christ the King

Ezekiel 34.11-12, 15-17
Psalm 23
1 Corinthians 15.20-26, 28
Matthew 25.31-46

This Sunday in the Catholic calendar is the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ the King, the last Sunday of the Church year. (Next Sunday will be the First Sunday of Advent and the first day of the Church’s calendar.)
This has always been one of my favorite feasts, one to celebrate with great festivity, solemnity and joy. This Sunday’s readings give us pause to reflect on how we relate to God and to one another. The Gospel reveals to us that Jesus will return one day, not as savior, but as judge. That image of Jesus doesn’t always go over very well in our culture. In our tolerant and non-judgmental society, we prefer to think of Jesus as a friend, a counselor, a wise man, a comforter – anything but a judge.
Yet, the fact that He is king brings with it the fact that he is judge. As king, Jesus holds all three branches of government within himself – he is lawmaker, executive and judge. Our American sensibility for the separation of powers is offended – how can anyone make that claim? And Lord Acton’s famous quote, “Power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely,” comes to mind.
But herein lies the difference – we are talking about God; God who created the universe and who set its rules into place. Some people might object, as I saw one writer complain once about how God treated Job (he claimed that God basically bullied Job into submission rather than answering Job’s questions). But don’t we humans do the same thing? When we invent something, we make it to run according to our rules; when it doesn’t, we say it’s broken. In the same way, the God who created everything out of nothing and for His own purposes has the right and even the duty to set the rules. If there were no rules, then there is no way that it could be said that God brought order out of chaos.
But those rules or commands, as St. John says in one of his letters, are not burdensome. The reason they’re not burdensome is because they are given to us out of love. Look at the works Jesus says the just accomplish – they welcome the stranger, feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, care for the sick, visit the imprisoned. These are all acts of kindness and mercy, which are both types of love.
When these things are done, we become more like God, who “makes His sun rise on the evil and the good and sends rain on the just and the unjust” (Matt. 5.45).
And that is really what we are supposed to be doing. The Fathers talk about the kind of kingship we are supposed to exercise in our lives, since at Baptism we are anointed, as Christ was, as a priest, prophet and king. As priests, we offer the daily sacrifice of praise and love; as prophets, we proclaim the never failing truth of the Gospel and of God’s own works in our lives; as kings, we exercise sovereignty over our passions in order to follow God’s commands.
When we have this kind of control over our passions, then the Lord’s own work can be seen more clearly through us. Of course, the control over our passions is something we do under submission to the Lord. We cannot pretend to do this of our own accord. We have to be like the servants who say, “We are but useless servants; we have done no more than we have been commanded.”
One thing should be cleared up on this story – it is not directed towards Christians. Yes, you read that correctly. Notice that Jesus said that when He comes to His glorious throne upon the cherubim, the nations will be assembled before Him. In the Old Testament, the nations refer to those people who are not Israelites – the gentiles. The just and the unjust both ask Jesus the same question, though from different aspects – “Lord, when did we see you....” and His response is, “Whenever you did it (or not) for one of these least brothers, you did it to Me.” We Christians already should know when we are serving the Lord. And doing these corporal works of mercy are only part of the Gospel message. Notice that there is nothing here about prayer, loving our enemies, the Eucharist – nothing of the essentials of what Christians live out in our everyday lives. We know already that we have to do these things because it’s part of the Golden Rule.
Rather, it’s the people of the nations, those outside the faith, who are left wondering when they did this because they had never acknowledged Him before in their lives. They didn’t recognize Him in anyone because they did not know that He is Lord. That’s why they’re stupefied at what He said. And those whom He calls the least brothers are not every other person in the world. Rather, the least brothers are Christians. This is very clear from reading the rest of the New Testament that the term brothers, outside of where it used in reference to a blood relative, is used to refer to the body of believers.
I know this goes against all tolerant sensibilities, but that is what Jesus was saying. Again, for Christians, these are the minimum requirements. If we aren’t at least doing these things on a daily basis, then we have no business calling ourselves followers of Christ. Not only must we do these things, but we who, by His grace and mercy, already recognize the King of Kings, have to submit the totality of our lives to His reign.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

On this Sunday's readings

At Mass today, I got a bit frustrated. We were at a Confirmation and the bishop said that the Gospel reading (the famous, "Give to Caeser what is Caeser's, but to God what is God's" which has so much depth to it) was not really about Church and state but about stewardship. He lost me and I think he lost the rest of the congregation as well.

As I was praying after Communion, it seemed to me that perhaps God was calling me to use this site to offer reflections on the readings, at least for Sunday. These have no official standing of any kind; they are merely the musings of a lay Catholic with an undergraduate theology degree.

So here goes:

The 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Reading 1 - Isaiah 45:1, 4-6
Ps. 96
Reading 2 - 1 Thess. 1:1-5b
Gospel - Matt. 22:15-21

To say these readings have nothing to do with Church and state is to be totally misleading. Clearly, the Church by posing these readings in juxtaposition to one another is trying to teach us a lesson on the relations between Church and state. But it's a bit deeper than that, as we'll see in a moment.

First, let me point out that many people throw Jesus's rightly famous line, "Give to Caeser what is Caeser's, but to God what is God's," in the face of the Church. The implication is that Jesus's saying means, "If the state has made a law, then the Church can't say anything against that law since that is Caeser speaking." But that is clearly not the case. If that were so, then what God established earlier would no longer be valid.

What had He established? That He is King over all the earth -- King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Those are not mere salutary, pompous and extraneous titles. God is King over all the earth, the Psalmist says. And in the reading from Isaiah, the Lord is making it clear to Cyrus that he is but an instrument of the Lord's will being used to bring about His ends. This does not mean that Cyrus is a mere pawn to God and that God has no care for the person of Cyrus. Rather, it means that Cyrus is blind to the reality of who God is and Cyrus' own place in the history of salvation.

The constant refrain throughout the first reading is "I am the Lord, there is no other." And therein lies the key to understanding what Jesus said.

The position that He was being placed in was no-win. If He said, "Yes, pay the tax," then the Pharisees would have jumped all over him because they found it (rightly) odious to pay a tax that funded the troops who suppressed the Israelites. Remember, too, that Caeser claimed some divinity and that many worshipped him as a god and this tax could be seen as a tribute to a god -- which is blasphemy and punishable by death. If He said, "No, don't pay it," then the Herodians, those who were loyal to King Herod, would have had legal ground on which to arrest Him and try Him for treason. Death if He does, and death if He doesn't.

So while Jesus is clever because His answer gets him out of trouble, it is far more than clever. He knows that He has come to establish the Kingdom. He knows all that the prophets said before Him about God being King over all the earth and "His judgments prevail" and "I am the Lord, there is no other."

We are subject to the emperor, but we are far more subject to God. His laws are above Caeser's laws. Caeser, like Cyrus, is in God's hand. Notice that Jesus told them to give to Caeser what Caeser had on the coin -- his image. In fact, by using the language, "Whose image is this, and whose inscription?", Jesus is recalling them back to the beginning, back to Genesis 2. If Caeser's image is on the coin, then give that to Caeser. But, if God made us in His image and likeness, with His supernatural inscprition in our hearts, then "We must render to God what is God's." (This observation, of course, is not original to me. It is something the Fathers talked about at the beginning of the Church's history; I simply don't remember who it was.)

And that is where the conflict between Church and state occurs. The state so often tries to claim a stake in the direction of our lives without considering who we are -- made in the imago Dei. When that happens, conflict between the Church and the state follows. If Caeser passes a law that goes contrary to the imago Dei, then that law is void. This is old Catholic teaching and it is based on this passage. But it also leads to confrontations, confrontations that can be really ugly and brutal.

But if we give to God what is God's, then He will recognize us in the end and bring us to dwell with Him in everlasting joy -- something Caeser can promise, but never do.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Catholic Medical Association annual conference

Here's a press release about the upcoming Catholic Medical Association conference in October in Portland, Ore. Please let your physicians know about it and encourage them to attend. This group is the one really bright spot in Catholic health care in the U.S. today. If anyone wants more info, please put some info in the Comments section and I'll get back to you.

Catholic Medical Association

National Headquarters
1241 Highland Avenue
P.O. Box 920480
Needham, Massachusetts 02492
Phone: (781) 455-0259
Fax: (781) 455-0357

June 24, 2005

Children’s lives are of the greatest importance in public life since they are the future of the human race. How they are treated from their earliest days is of great concern to the medical professional.

The Catholic Medical Association, a group of physicians dedicated to upholding the principles of the Catholic faith in the practice of medicine, will be holding its 74th annual national conference in Portland, Oregon, on “The Biological and Spiritual Development of the Child.” Included in this conference will be discussions by a world-renowned child and adolescent psychiatrist about the latest research on the child’s brain development and the social environment needed to develop it. There will also be talks on “Sensory Development of the Fetus; Getting Started as “We, not Me”; the impact of sexual education on children’s brains; and on the child and the working mother.

“This conference will be looking at the rich connections between the physical development of children and their interactions with their families, families and the culture, and all of these with the Church,” said conference organizer, Thomas Pitre, M.D.

“This will be an important educational conference on the development of the human brain,” he added.

The gathering is taking place at the end of the Year of the Eucharist, proclaimed by Pope John Paul II, observed Pitre, a board certified urologist in private practice in Portland. “All of our topics relate to the Eucharist,” he said. “Our conference coinciding with the closing of this Year of the Eucharist will be a great source of reflection, blessing and grace for all of us.”

The Catholic Medical Association has guilds in various cities throughout the U.S. and Canada.

The New York Medical College has designated this educational activity for a maximum of 14.5 category 1 credits toward the AMA Physician’s Recognition Award.

The full program of events and registration materials are available on our website at

What: The 74th annual national educational conference of the Catholic Medical Association

Who: Daniel Siegel, M.D., an internationally acclaimed child and adolescent psychiatrist and author from UCLA
David Fagerberg, Ph.D., a theology professor at the University of Notre Dame
Cardinal Francis George of Chicago
Bishop Thomas Olmsted of Phoenix
Bishop John Nienstedt of New Ulm, Minn.
Archbishop John Vlazny of Portland, Ore., and Bishop Robert Vasa of Baker, Ore., will celebrate Masses and preach.
It will also feature the choral groups
Portland Cathedral Choir
Cappella Romana (superb!)
Cantores in Ecclesia
Actor, producer and film and stage director Leonardo Defilippis will also perform his one-man play, “Maximilian: Saint of Auschwitz.”

Where: The Portland Hilton Executive Tower

When: October 20-22, 2005

Monday, August 22, 2005

A new book by Yours Truly (sort of)

At the end of next week, a new book should be out on the market called Dare to be Holy. It's by Bill Wegner and I'm the co-author (hence, the "sort of" in the title of this entry).

Bill is a New Jerseyite who was raised Catholic, left the Church when he went to college in the late 60's, made a whole bunch of life-type of mistakes, then made a whole bunch of money, lost it all, had a conversion experience, made a whole bunch of other money and then some, and then gave it up to go around the country and even to different countries to give lay parish missions. (He's been to my sister's parish in Jaffrey, NH and will be at St. Peter in Peterborough, NH, in October, along with a whole bunch of other places.)

The book is an easy read and is autobiographical as well as providing some challenging teaching on living the Christian life. It's been endorsed by Jeff Cavins, Ralph Martin, Johnette Benkovic, Joe Klecko (of New York Jets fame) and one other sports figure whom I can't remember at this time.

Here's Johnette's endorsement:
Pope Paul VI said, "Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, or if he listens to teachers he does so because they are witnesses." How well these words apply to the evangelization efforts of Bill Wegner! In his book, "Dare to Be Holy," he recounts the unvarnished details of his journey from "would-be bookie" to real estate dynamo to full-time Catholic lay evangelist, and offers us a witness that truly teaches. With humor, insight, and inspiration, he gives us a window into his soul and convicts us in the process. This easy read packs a powerful punch as Bill Wegner all but "double dares" us to "be holy!"
Anyway, you can find more information about Bill at the website for Good News International. At some point in the next couple of weeks, there should be an order form available on that site as well as site for the book itself.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

On marriage vows

On marriage vows

For those of you who are married, I’m sure you remember when you took your marriage vows. Even if it was 50 or 60 years ago, that moment doesn’t fade from memory. It is one of those life-defining moments that you simply cannot forget. I know I certainly don’t forget it.

But there seems to be a crisis in vows today. A lot of people don’t seem to know what they mean. Vows are public statements that we are making a commitment for life. We don’t know what the future will hold, we don’t know everything there is to know about this particular person we are marrying, but by God’s grace, I will commit myself to him or her and by that commitment, I will help myself and my spouse get into heaven.

You know, I think that’s something a lot of people forget about marriage. Marriage is one of the seven sacraments of the Catholic Church. Sure, the Church recognizes that marriage is a natural institution made by God at creation, and so all marriages, whether Catholic or not, are presumed to be valid. But she also recognizes that marriage has been raised by Christ, for those who believe, to more than a natural state. It has been elevated to help the spouses get into heaven.

That’s right, folks, marriage is supposed to help you get to heaven; it is supposed to help make you holy. That’s what the sacraments are all about, isn’t it? When we get baptized or confirmed, when we receive the Eucharist or the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick, or Confession, we know that we are receiving grace to grow in holiness. And we know that those who receive ordination are called to be holy and to help the rest of us become holy by administering the sacraments to us.

But when it comes to marriage, I’m afraid too many of us look at it as simply the Church’s blessing on our desire to live together. How much we’re missing when that’s what we think. Everyday you are married, you wake up and you are living in the grace of marriage. Think about that. Think about the fact that every time you engage in marital intimacy, you are renewing your wedding vows.

You know, I think that because marriage entails so much of the nitty-gritty of daily life, the grace that’s present in it is simply overlooked. But that’s really where the grace is – in the nitty-gritty of everyday life, of changing diapers, making meals, driving kids to soccer games, hashing out the money problems, going to the in-laws for Thanksgiving – all that stuff is to help make us holy.

So when we take those vows, we are committing ourselves to living in God’s grace with this particular man or woman. That’s why the Catholic Church only has two options for taking marriage vows. Today a lot of people make up their own vows and there are even websites that have sample vows. I was looking through some of those and you know what’s really interesting? A lot of those so-called vows don’t include a vow to a life-long commitment. And if doesn’t have that, then it’s simply not a vow.

A vow is a public statement that I will be committed to you for the rest of my life, no matter what happens. A vow is not a mere promise; it is much deeper than that. If I break a promise, that’s something between me and the person I promised. But if I break a vow, not only have I broken faith with my spouse, I have also broken faith with the people that I made that vow in front of, and in marriage, that means breaking faith with the Church.

Now, I know there are a lot of you who took vows but who made a mistake of one kind or another and I know that happens and it’s very painful when it happens. But I also know that very often we simply do not commit ourselves to the vows we took because we look at them as something less than they really are. If, however, we commit ourselves to those vows, then God will act and bless your marriage abundantly.

On liberal churches

Would you want to stay in a church that taught heresy? I know I wouldn’t. How about a church that taught less than the truth? I couldn’t go for that either. And it appears that many other Americans don’t like those kinds of churches all that much, too. Mainline Protestant churches in the U.S. have been steadily losing membership since about 1965. Churches like the Episcopal Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Methodists, United Church of Christ, the Disciples of Christ have all been losing members. Sometimes, as in the case of the Disciples of Christ, up to nearly 50 percent of their members have left or died without being replaced.

Contrast that with churches that are more faithful to the Gospel, or as the mainstream media like to say, conservative. Evangelical churches have seen an increase of at least 10 percent over the last 20 years, the Southern Baptists have increased 4 percent, Pentecostals have increased percent.

And even with the number of people leaving the Catholic Church for other denominations like the Evangelicals and Pentecostals, or leaving because of scandals, the numbers of those coming into the Roman Catholic Church have been steadily increasing.

Why is this happening? I think it’s because people are finding out that the liberal agenda is a dead end street. They’re realizing that a God who loves you where you’re at and then leaves you there isn’t much of a God. They’re realizing in their hearts that they need something more than to be told that they’re OK where they are, because they know they can’t go on sinning. They know in their heart of hearts that love is more than getting what I want when I want and how I want.

So they are looking for someone to serve. They are looking for a God who can take them out of their misery and bring them up to something they can’t get – divinity. Only God can give that to us.

So many churches today, and there are, unfortunately, a lot of Catholics who buy into this as well, have said we have to conform to the culture. We have to support people who want to contracept, who want abortions, who want us to bless homosexual “unions,” who want us to say, “It’s OK if you divorce and remarry even though Jesus himself said that to do so would be to commit adultery.”

And that’s what is happening in many of these churches. But what happens when the Church does that? The Church disappears. There is no need for it to exist anymore. If you say that the prevailing culture is good, then what purpose does the Church fulfill? The Church is there to call people to God, to call people away from sin and if the Church says, “Go ahead, sin all you want – it’s OK, we don’t mind,” then the Church has lost her reason for existence. And people know this in their hearts. Oh, sure they’ll grouse about how the Church says this and that and can’t they just shut up and leave us alone, but, like Herod before John the Baptist, they know the attraction of his words and their hearts are being pulled to the beauty of the truth.

On begging

Atlanta's City Council just passed an ordinance banning panhandling in a good portion of downtown. Here's what Drew had to say:

For a number of years in cities across the country, officials have been trying to “clean up” the streets. No, we’re not talking about picking up the litter; we’re talking about the poor and the homeless. The “clean up” that city officials want to do is to get the poor off the streets and, basically, out of sight and out of mind.

The poor and homeless out on the streets are embarrassing to everyone who’s lower middle class or above, to use our polite way of saying that those who are better off are simply better human beings. And since we’re better human beings, we don’t need these others around littering and cluttering up the streets.

But here’s the problem – we really do need these people around. I’m sure you’re asking yourselves now, What’s that, Drew? We need these people? Yes, we need these people. Let me ask you something – if everyone in the world was well off and well provided for, who would there be to do good to? If there were no handicapped people in the world, how could we be drawn out of ourselves and see people who are in much greater need than we are?

Jesus himself said that we would have the poor with us always and that we can do good to them whenever we want. This was a statement of fact, but it was also affirmed all that God had said throughout the Old Testament – we have to treat the poor with compassion and care.

Now, I’m not trying to romanticize the poor here. If you go to a downtown where there are people living on the street, you know as well as I do that they are an interesting group of people. Many of them have mental illnesses or addictions of one kind or another; they smell since they don’t get to shower very often, if at all; they can often be rude and demanding; and if you do something for them they can sometimes get the impression that you’re going to give them everything they need and become almost obnoxious.

But what of it? Don’t we all have our own faults and sins and bad habits? Of course, ours are a little more polite – instead of being obnoxious, we backbite. Instead of stealing, our checks bounce. Instead of begging, we hint at something we want. Our faults may not be as obvious, but they’re there and they’re no less wrong than those of the street beggar.

In other words, the poor remind us of our own poverty – and that makes us uncomfortable. We don’t like it that they remind us that if the company we work for went down the drain tomorrow or our spouse divorced us or some economic catastrophe struck the country, then we could end up like that.

But even more, they remind us of our spiritual poverty, and we have that in abundance. What did Blessed Mother Teresa say? “It is a great poverty that a child should die so that you may live as you wish.” Doesn’t that show how impoverished we really are?

When we don’t have the willingness to part with a couple of dollars to give to someone who is asking some help of us, even though Jesus himself said to us in the Sermon on the Mount, “Give to all who ask of you,” what kind of character are we displaying? That’s miserliness in my book, and certainly not a reflection of God the Father.

“Oh,” you say, “but they might go out and buy drugs or some drink with it.” OK, so? Remember what Jesus said about creation? How the sun shines on the just and the unjust and the rain falls on the just and unjust, too? So if God is so magnanimous that he does not withhold his blessings of creation on those who are unjust, who are we to be withholding the blessings God has given us simply because that beggar might spend it badly? Doesn’t God give us grace and don’t we misuse it? I know I do it all the time. But he doesn’t withhold it, does he? It would be awful if he did.

We who are well-off need the poor – and they need us. They need us to act like God the Father towards them, to be generous even though they might abuse what they receive. We need them so we can act like God the Father and learn to love as he loves – freely and without counting the cost.

So if your city starts talking about “cleaning up the streets” and wants to get an anti-begging ordinance in place, go and lobby your council member against it. Tell them we need the poor as much as they need us – and then watch them stare at you like you’ve got two heads.

Monday, August 15, 2005

The liturgy and EIFWAIL

How are the liturgy and EIFWAIL related you ask? It seems to me that those who think EIFWAIL is OK do not fully recognize the humanity of the child who is unborn. They do not recognize that that child is alive even if it is receiving all its life support from its mother. And, among Catholics, I partially blame ICEL.

The International Committee on English in the Liturgy was established after Vatican II to write up the English vernacular for the liturgy. That committee was dominated by people who thought a few interesting things:

1) Most people are too stupid to understand what's really going on in the liturgy and so we have to dumb everything down for them.

2) We don't want anyone to understand a whole lot about the Church's full tradition prior to 1965, so take out all references to angelic beings (hence the Prefaces no longer have references to angels, archangels, powers, principalities, etc.), Joseph being the most pure spouse of Mary, and so on.

3) English need not be poetic since most Americans aren't poetic, so we'll make the liturgical language as dull as possible.

Well, they succeeded in their task.

But they also succeeded in another task -- they succeeded in making people think that people do not become people until they are born. That came from the translation of the Creed in the section that reads, in Latin, "Et incarnatus est de Spiritu Sancto ex Maria Virgine, et homo factus est." Literally, "By the Holy Spirit, he was incarnate of the Virgin Mary and he was made man." But what we English-speaking Catholics get to say on Sundays is, "And by the power of the Holy Spirit, he was born of the Virgin Mary and became man."

There are a couple of things wrong with this:

1) This is a horrible translation. My children could do a better job than these supposed professionals did.

2) He was not born by the power of the Holy Spirit. That was a natural process.

3) The most grievous fault is this: He was already a man while he was in the womb of his mother. Not a man, of course, in the sense of being grown-up, but in the sense that he was of the human race. But because we recite this every week and have been doing so for nearly 40 years, I contend that the thought has crept into our minds that since Jesus did not become man until he was born, what of the rest of us who are far less than he ever was?

I do not know exactly how to consider ICEL on this point. Did the committee members intend this or not? Let's hope not because if they did, their extreme insidiousness helped to brainwash many, many Catholics to think that Planned Parenthood and Peter Singer really are correct.

EIFWAIL among homeschoolers?

As readers of this blog know, I did a lot of work on early induction of fetuses with anamolies incompatible with life, otherwise known as EIFWAIL (scroll down to the entry of Feb 21 for links to all my pieces on the subject).

So when I got a link to a Catholic homeschooler's blog defending her decision to have this procedure done, it took me aback. I'm assuming from the tone of what she wrote that some of the things she received were written by people who spoke rather rudely to her condemning her decision. Such people should be ashamed.

However, I cannot pass this over nor write approvingly of her decision, no matter how difficult it was for her. I am not speaking in judgment of her, only writing based on what she has stated and what I learned in the course of my work on EIFWAIL.

When I talked with Drs. Thomas Hilgers and Byron Calhoun, both highly respected Ob/Gyn's and Calhoun a highly respected perinatologist, they made it plain to me that it is NEVER necessary to perform an early induction in the case of fetal anomalies, unless the mother's life is at risk. And even when the mother is at risk, that is something that can be closely monitored and taken care of when the need arises.

The important thing here is that the life of the child has to be given the utmost consideration. Anne argues that Sarah was going to die anyway. That is, of course, true. So are we all. But Sarah's life was not over yet. She still had life in the womb. Leaving "her in to cook," as Anne wrote, was not the issue. The issue was whether or not Sarah still had God-given life in her, life no one on this earth was entitled to take until her time had come. As I have said to other people, simply because we are all "going to die anyway" does not entitle me to shoot anyone on sight.

I can understand Anne's decision. All the medical experts she consulted were telling her it was the right thing to do. Indeed, I would say that they were probably expecting and setting up the atmosphere for her to do an early induction. Her reply to someone's comment that she did not want to see Sarah suffer indicates that they did a pretty good job at making that atmosphere permeate nearly all her thinking.

However, it seems to me from reading her blog that her heart told her something different. I only wish that someone who knew better could have been there to tell her that she could have handled it with the grace of Christ that comes from so many different sources -- her marriage, her friends, the sacraments, people who have been through it -- that she could have kept Sarah for as long as she was alive in the womb, that someone like St. Gianna Beretta Molla could intercede for her and give her inspiration to cling as much as possible to Christ's cross, no matter how difficult it is.

We all fail everyday in following Christ, so I make no judgment on Anne at all. But if only someone had told her that love for others, even to the point of sacrificing ourselves, is our highest good....

Commentaries coming up

On my way home from my father's funeral, I found out that I was being offered an independent contractor position with Relevant Radio, a Catholic radio network based out of Green Bay, Wis. I am doing research and writing for the Drew Mariani Show, their afternoon drive-time talk show. I'm writing up some commentaries for Drew on various subjects. After the show for which I write them has broadcast, I'll post them here.

Obviously, I'm writing them for him and his style, so they're very informal and laced with radio-style talking. Of course, I can't completely imitate him -- only he can give his "Drew-isms," but you can get a flavor of what he's like.

Drew did a great service during the Terri Schiavo affair. He did four days worth of broadcasting from there at least three weeks before the rest of the media woke up to realize there was something going on in Clearwater. And since he was doing it from a Catholic perspective, he got it right.

This week he's broadcasting from World Youth Day in Cologne and yours truly is writing up a number of things for that.

You can listen to him live on the Internet by clicking on the Listen Live link on Relevant Radio's homepage. He's on from 3 to 6 Central. RR has stations throughout Wisconsin, in Chicago, Pittsburgh, somewhere in North Carolina, Naples & Fort Meyers Fla. Of course, a complete list is available at their site.

I'm back

I was on an extended hiatus for some good reasons, but have decided to end it. Part of the reason for the break was due to my father's death on July 15, the feast of St. Bonaventure, and his burial on July 20, the feast of St. Apollinaris. Walter Szyszkiewicz died of complications from cancer, a cancer which was manifested on December 12 of last year, the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. He went through six months of exhausting radiation and chemo therapies, none of which really helped a whole lot.

But it is partly a result of his funeral that I am writing again. While I was back home, my cousin told me something at the funeral home -- his wife had noticed that I hadn't updated my blog. When I asked her about after the funeral the next day, she said, "He wasn't supposed to say anything."

When I got back home, I had a bunch of things to do and didn't look at my blog. But this weekend was a family reunion of my wife's family -- with all but one of her eight brothers and their families. (Doing pictures at these events is always kind of interesting for me. We always get one with the brothers and sister with Mom and Dad, and then one with the sisters-in-law -- and me.) Yesterday morning at my in-law's home, one of my sisters-in-law said, "Tom, I've read your blog, but you haven't done anything on it." One of my nephews told me the same thing.

So, due to popular demand from the Szyszkiewicz and Gibson families, I'm back.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Make the clergy pay -- but no one else

Marci Hamilton is a lawyer and legal scholar at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law at Yeshiva University in New York. She has made numerous statements to the effect that the Catholic Church should be policed by people outside of the institution, have punitive damages leveled against her, and the statutes of limitation on sexual abuse cases be lifted because of clergy sex abuse. (You can find a listing of her columns here.) Now she is advocating this:
Congress could deter such destructive institutional defenses by mandating the revocation of tax-exempt status for any charitable non-profit institution, or one of its legal subdivisions, that fosters or covers up child abuse or fails to report it to authorities.
I find it interesting that basically no one has said anything about other institutions that have child sex abuse problems. As I said in a letter to the editor of USA Today, "Why doesn't Hamilton ask Congress to investigate something it can control -- the public school system? Charol Shakeshaft of Hofstra University has documented the insidious practice of shuffling abusing teachers from one school to the other and shown that the numbers and percentages of children abused in public schools are far higher than those abused by priests." (Whether or not that letter will be published has yet to be seen.)

Many people accuse the Catholic Church of being priggishly self-righteous. It irks me to no end that while people like Hamilton and the MSM are rubbing our noses into the failings of some priests and bishops, they fail to look at the much rather larger pile of do that's behind them.

Watch out, Latinos. Planned Parenthood's mobilizing

The Washington Post today carried an article saying that Hispanic population growth in the U.S. is now taking place more by births than by immigration. This is based on a Census Bureau report.

Hispanics accounted for about half the growth in the U.S. population since 2000, according to a Census Bureau report to be released today that indicates the nation's largest minority group is increasing its presence even faster than in the previous decade.

In another contrast to the 1990s, births have overtaken immigration this decade as the largest source of Hispanic growth.

Actually, this really isn't news. A few years ago at the Catholic Press Association convention in Dallas, one of the featured speakers was a demographer of Hispanic background. He was from one of the local institutions of higher learning, though his name and affiliation now escape me. This demographer told the Catholic editors and writers assembled there that the growth of the Hispanic population in Texas was huge, that it was due more to births than to immigration, and that it would fundamentally change a whole lot of things in that state.

So here I was at a gathering of fellow Catholic writers and editors and so I figured this guy had some sort of pro-life sympathies. Based on that assumption, I ask my question: "With all that you said in mind, is it safe to assume that Planned Parenthood is targeting or is going to be targeting young Hispanic women to have them get more abortions?" Here was (in essence -- I don't remember the exact quote) his answer: "Yes they are -- and they should!"

I admit that I was shocked and don't remember anything more of what he said. I shouldn't have been shocked, but I was. The reason for the shock is because here's a guy saying members of his own race need to be controlled like animals. This can only be described as sick type of envy of white people and a detestation of his own God-given dignity as a member of a particular family.

So, Latinos, watch out -- with a story like the Post's today, that is only going to increase Planned Parenthood's efforts to be the thought and womb police and destroy your children. But not only that, there's something worse -- your own people are willing to betray you to them.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

The not-so-peaceful Muslims

I couldn't help but notice three articles on Islam or Islamic states in the big three Eastern newspapers today. The Boston Globe's Jeff Jacoby and the New York Times' David Brooks both had articles excoriating commentators who only blamed Newsweek for the anti-American riots in Afghanistan and Pakistan because of the magazine's wrong story about interrogators at Guantanamo Bay flushing the Koran down the toilet. Instead, they said, we should look at the Islamists themselves.

Good point. So the Washington Post obliged (unwittingly, to be sure) with an article on a Briton who claims he endured torture in a Saudi jail for a crime he never committed.

Here's my perspective: Newsweek was wrong. They screwed up journalistically, no doubt about that, so one cannot deflect any blame for their own error from them or use what James Taranto of the Wall Street Journal's OpinionJournal likes to call "the fake but accurate" defense -- the story was right in its essence, but wrong in its particulars.

However, they are not to blame for the riots. It wasn't the Newsweek writers who got the crowds out on the streets. It wasn't the Newsweek editors who killed the 16 who died. That responsibility lies solely with the people of Afghanistan and Pakistan and their leaders, both religious and secular (or should I say religious/secular, or religiousecular?).

Peaceful Islam? Can't say that's an oxymoron -- but can't say that it isn't, either.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Sorry, Bill, you're wrong on this one

On May 11, Bill Donohue of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights issued this press release:


For the past two years, a non-Catholic pro-life group, Alaska Right to Life, has become increasingly critical of Providence Alaska Medical Center, a Catholic hospital that is under the tutelage of Anchorage Archbishop Roger Schwietz; it has also become quite critical of the archbishop. Alaska Right to Life contends that Providence permits abortions, something the hospital and the archbishop deny.

In 2003, when Archbishop Schwietz was told by Alaska Right to Life that a procedure called early induction of labor was being performed at Providence, and that it was a form of abortion, he immediately declared a halt to it. After he concluded that Catholic ethical principles were not being compromised, he lifted the moratorium. He then asked officials at Providence to work with the National Catholic Bioethics Center to make sure that its guidelines were air tight. The Catholic community was satisfied, but it did nothing to satisfy Alaska Right to Life.

Catholic League president William Donohue commented as follows:

"It is patently untrue, and grossly unfair, to say that Providence Alaska Medical Center performs abortions and that Archbishop Roger Schwietz approves of them. To his credit, Archbishop Schwietz sought the counsel of Dr. John Haas, one of the nation’s leading Catholic bioethicists; he is a person I know and trust. Dr. Haas helped the hospital revise its guidelines, which are constantly being updated, so that there would never be any loopholes.

"Alaska Right to Life stands for a noble cause, but its intrusive manner—lecturing the Catholic community on what the Catholic Catechism says—has turned off the Knights of Columbus and the Catholic Daughters of America. Add the Catholic League to this list. The final straw for us was the April edition of its newsletter wherein it asked its members to appeal to the Vatican to intervene in this issue. This crosses the line—a secular group like Alaska Right to Life ought to learn to mind its own business. Its reputation as a meddler does not help its cause."

(You may recall that I covered the story about Early Induction for Fetuses with Anomalies Incompatible with Life (EIFWAIL) at Catholic hospitals for Our Sunday Visitor and National Catholic Register.)

Now I respect the Catholic League a lot and what Bill Donohue does for them and the Catholic Church in the United States. But, unfortunately, Bill got this one wrong on a number of fronts. I called the League on May 11 to talk with him about this. I got a call back from Communications Director Kiera McCaffrey and talked with her about it. And I did run this e-mail by them hoping that Bill would talk to me about it. The only response I got was that I could post it. So here goes:

1) Providence's CEO, Al Parrish, has told AKRTL vice-president, Ed Wassell, a solidly orthodox Catholic, that they are still doing the procedure. You see, Parrish has frequently let Wassell know when they have done the Early Induction for Fetuses With Anomolies Incompatible with Life (EIFWAIL), either by calling him or by answering the question directly when Wassell asks (strange arrangement, I know, but that is what happens). And virtually every time it has been done, Wassell has asked if it was for the life of the mother, and the answer always is "No." So even though Providence have policies in place prohibiting the practice, by Parrish's own admission, they are not following those procedures.

2) Early induction is a fairly common procedure for many different obstetrical situations, usually to intervene in some sort of life-threatening situation (life-threatening to either the mother or child). But as it is stated in the press release it would appear that AKRTL believe that any hospital doing early inductions is doing an immoral procedure, and that is wrong.

AKRTL are objecting to a very specific procedure called EIFWAIL. It is meant to terminate a pregnancy with a child that has severe post-natal, life-threatening abnormalities, such as anencephaly (a baby with only a brain stem), renal agenesis (failure of the kidneys and lungs to form) and other rare conditions. Providence and other Catholic hospitals practice this induction at 23 to 24 weeks gestation in order to get around the Ethical and Religious Directives of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops prohibition on abortion by saying these children have reached the age of viability.

As I stated in my OSV article after interviewing Drs. Thomas Hilgers and Byron Calhoun, both of whom are maternal-fetal specialists: "Both physicians emphasized that early induction can be done in these situations for the same conditions in which it would be done with normal children, such as when the mother’s physical health is imminently endangered."

But Dr. Hilgers, founder and director of the Pope Paul VI Institute at Creighton University in Omaha, Neb., made clear that "these babies should be allowed to go to term as any other babies are. The bottom line issue is, would you do this to a baby who is normal? No, you would never subject that baby to prematurity."

Here is what the National Catholic Bioethics Center has posted on its website about the procedure:
Early induction of labor for chorioamnionitis, preeclampsia, and H.E.L.L.P. syndrome, for example, can be morally licit under the conditions just described because it directly cures a pathology by evacuating the infected membranes in the case of chorioamnionitis, or the diseased placenta in the other cases, and cannot be safely postponed. However, early induction of an anencephalic child when there is no serious pathology of the mother which is being directly treated is not morally licit, emotional distress notwithstanding. Early induction of labor before term (37 weeks) to relieve emotional distress hastens the death of the child as a means of achieving this presumed good effect and unjustifiably deprives the child of the good of gestation. Moreover, this distress is amenable to psychological support such as is offered in perinatal hospice. Lastly, induction of labor before term performed simply for the reason that the child has a lethal anomaly is direct abortion. (emphasis mine)
3) Archbishop Schwietz did indeed call on the NCBC to help draft new guidelines, which was a good call. But their efforts to do so were hampered by Providence. Even after the policies were written and sent to Providence, it was not entirely clear to the NCBC staff that the hospital would even adopt them as they were free to use them or not.

Providence finally did take them. However, they will not let anyone outside the organization have them. I have requested to see them to no avail. When Ed Wassell asked to see them, he could only do so sitting in the office of a Providence administrator and no copies were allowed to be made or taken.

4) Many of the principals of AKRTL are Catholic. So even though AKRTL is officially a secular organization, its leadership and membership are made up of faithful Christian people, including Catholics. They are, therefore, rightly interested in what goes on at Providence, particularly if they are doing something as serious as EIFWAIL.

Quoting the Catechism of the Catholic Church seems to me to be a very appropriate thing to do when one is confronting a Catholic institution that is not living up to its responsibility -- even, or especially if the group doing the quoting is not Catholic.

5) Bill claimed that the April newsletter of AKRTL called on the group's members to appeal to the Vatican to intervene. That is not correct. Here's what the newsletter did say:

Since the Pope and Vatican in Rome have ultimate jurisdiction over Providence Hospital, Alaska Right to Life petitioned the Holy See in January 2004 to intervene and bring a halt to the practice of early induction abortion. The letter was signed by Karen Vosburgh, Executive Director of Alaska Right to Life. Response from such communications typically takes a lengthy period of time, because such matters are very carefully investigated.

Alaska Right to Life will continue to pursue all means at our disposal to halt early induction abortions.
However, they were not the only ones. Others also reported this to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in early 2004, so it is quite likely that Pope Benedict XVI himself is aware of it. And if you look at John Paul the Great's ad limina speech to the bishops of Oregon, Washington and Alaska last year, there are hints that he even knew about it:
5. The many initiatives of American Catholics on behalf of the elderly, the sick and the needy – through nursing homes, hospitals, clinics and various relief and assistance centers – have always been, and continue to be, an eloquent witness to the "faith, hope and love" (1 Cor 13:31) which must mark the life of every disciple of the Lord. In the United States, generations of religious and committed lay people, by building up a network of Catholic health care institutions, have borne outstanding testimony to Christ, the healer of bodies and souls, and to the dignity of the human person. The significant challenges facing these institutions in changing social and economic circumstances must not be allowed to weaken this corporate witness. Established policies in complete conformity with the Church’s moral teaching need to be firmly in place in Catholic health care facilities, and every aspect of their life ought to reflect their religious inspiration and their intimate link to the Church’s mission of bringing supernatural light, healing and hope to men and women at every stage of their earthly pilgrimage. (emphasis in original)
6) Bill's claim that the Catholic community was satisfied with what Providence did is up for debate. Maybe the NCBC were satisfied when the hospital finally adopted the policies. Archbishop Schwietz appears to have been.

Three things, though:
a) as demonstrated in number 1 above, Providence haven't implemented the policies the NCBC wrote for them;
b) the NCBC do not constitute the whole of the Catholic community; and
c) even if the archbishop is satisfied, weren't certain other prelates satisfied that clerical abusers wouldn't abuse again after getting treatment for their predilictions and their psychologists said everything was OK?

7) Besides EIFWAIL, there are serious issues with Providence that show a deep disregard for the teachings of the Church as evidenced by two key facts of which I am presently aware:

a) They have in their employ one Dr. Nelson Isada who is a known and published abortionist. He authored or co-authored numerous articles on abortion techniques while he was at Wayne State University in Detroit. Two years after he got to Alaska and was in Providence's employ, he was party to a lawsuit against the State of Alaska after the state passed its Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act. He is now a maternal-fetal physician on staff there and the head of Providence's genetic counseling center (scary thought).

When asked about this rather incongruous situation of having a known abortionist working at a Catholic hospital, the Archdiocese told me it was a hospital issue. (But the implementation of the Ethical and Religious Directives, one of which states, "Catholic health care institutions need to be concerned about the danger of scandal in any association with abortion providers," is to be overseen by the local bishop.) Providence's response to me was, "Dr. Isada knows and follows our policies."

Prof. Kevin Miller of my alma mater, Franciscan University of Steubenville, posted the following about Dr. Isada on the Heart, Mind & Strength blog (originals are here, here, here and here) after my OSV articles were published:

3. What has Dr. Isada published on abortion?

Here are some relevant citations/abstracts:

  • N.B. Isada et al., "Fetal intracardiac potassium chloride injection to avoid the hopeless resuscitation of an abnormal abortus: I. Clinical issues," Obstetrics and Gynecology 80 (1992): 296-99.

Abstract. OBJECTIVE: With the intention of preventing the attendant medical, ethical, and legal problems arising from the birth of live-born, anomalous fetuses, we initiated a program offering fetal intracardiac potassium chloride injection as an adjunctive measure in the setting of genetically indicated second-trimester abortion. METHODS: A lethal fetal injection was offered to patients carrying chromosomally or structurally abnormal fetuses at 19-24 weeks' gestation who desired abortion. When the patient elected this procedure, real-time ultrasound guidance was used to inject 3-5 mL of potassium chloride (2 mEq/mL) directly into the fetal cardiac chambers, followed by observation of fetal heart activity to ascertain cessation. Labor was subsequently induced with uterotonic prostaglandins. RESULTS: The procedure caused immediate cessation of fetal heart motion in 20 of 21 cases. There were no maternal complications. No fetuses were live-born. CONCLUSIONS: Direct fetal intracardiac potassium chloride injection effectively causes immediate fetal cardiac arrest. This approach may be adopted in cases of abortion by labor-induction methods at advanced gestations to ensure that the abortus is stillborn.

  • Fletcher, N.B. Isada, et al., "Fetal intracardiac potassium chloride injection to avoid the hopeless resuscitation of an abnormal abortus: II. Ethical issues," Obstetrics and Gynecology 80 (1992): 310-13.

Abstract. Following the diagnosis of a genetic anomaly, some couples choose to have a legal abortion. However, following later abortions at greater than 20 weeks, the rare but catastrophic occurrence of live births can lead to fractious controversy over neonatal management. To avoid this situation, we have added fetal intracardiac potassium chloride injection to cause fetal cardiac arrest before induction of labor. The ethical issues surrounding such a practice are complex. We support this practice for three reasons: 1) The women's decision for abortion is protected because this practice assures her right for non-interference; 2) potential psychological harm to the patient and other family members is avoided; and 3) the potential for coercive intervention by other health care personnel is eliminated. At least three objections can be raised: 1) All abortions are unjust; 2) newborns and second-trimester fetuses at similar weights with identical defects should be managed in like fashion; and 3) the patient is not entitled to death of the fetus, only to evacuation of the uterine contents. On balance, we believe that our approach is justifiable ethically as it reduces the burden of conflict between the wishes of the patient and those of the neonatal care givers. It should be introduced only in situations in which the likelihood of civil or criminal liability or unwarranted medical intervention is high.

4. How else has Dr. Isada been involved in pro-abortion advocacy?

In 1997, he was one of eleven plaintiffs on whose behalf the Alaska Civil Liberties Union filed a suit against the state's partial-birth abortion ban.

b) A counselor at Providence helped a 15-year-old Laotion girl and her 17-year-old boyfriend to fly to Seattle at state expense in order for her to have an abortion. Her parents are now suing the counselor and the hospital.

8) While the Knights of Columbus and the Catholic Daughters of America have, for now, severed their ties with AKRTL, this appears to simply be a case of bad communication and misinformation. Ed Wassell has admitted to me that he did mess up in communication before and at the annual service the Knights have to honor the unborn who have died through abortion, but it was not an intentional slight. I think he would admit that AKRTL's tactics have not always been the best. But bad tactics do not amount to being wrong on this issue.

9) Finally, Bill never called the people at AKRTL to get their input on this press release. AKRTL found out about it only after I sent it to them. If I were to write a story about some controversial subject without calling all the parties involved, particularly if those parties were considered friends or allies, I would rightly be excoriated for doing such and I could possibly even be sued for libel or some other malfeasance.

Yet there's still one more thing to look at. On May 12, the day after he sent out the release on AKRTL, Bill sent out another press release, this one rightly castigating Rainbow Sash for planning on protesting at cathedrals and parishes on Pentecost. It seems to me that to attack AKRTL one day and then go after Rainbow Sash the next practically equates the two.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Liberation Theology II

There's one thing I forgot to mention in my post on liberation theology. At the end of our day in Cuernavaca, we were told we were going to go to the house of someone in the group's father. So we all got on board a first-class bus and went to another section of the city. Turns out this person's father lived in a gated community. Beautiful palm tree-lined streets, all the lawns trimmed, gorgeous houses all over the place were the rule. The house we were at was well-tended and at least three servants, a pool, and a very well-liquored party were on order for us. And my confreres enjoyed it.

Somehow this incongruity, not in the city, but in my confrere's attitudes was something I could not resolve. It seemed to me that it was almost a use of the poor to advance some sort of ideology rather than truly caring for the poor, like Blessed Mother Teresa and the many others like her who found God's will in identifying personally with them.

I have a woodcut that is in direct contrast to the picture of Jesus with the cross I mentioned on the walls of that house in Cuernavaca. It shows Jesus with the crown of thorns reaching down to a man who is obviously starving. The starvation he suffers is far more than material -- it is a starvation of love and Jesus is giving that to him. That, it seems to me, should be what we as Christians should be about.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

My own encounter with liberation theology

One of the criticisms we're hearing about Pope Benedict XVI is that he squashed the liberation theology movement of the 70's and 80's, a movement that was supposed to identify the Church with the poor and help out with crushing poverty in South America. I'd like to look at that from a personal perspective.

In 1999, not long after I was named editor of the Times Review in the Diocese of La Crosse, I went to a conference in Mexico City on the effects of the North American Free Trade Agreement particularly on the Mexican economy. It was sponsored by the Catholic Press Association and UCIP, the international Catholic press guild.

Many of my colleagues on this trip were fans of liberation theology and the speakers there, including Gustavo Gutierrez, were of this mind as well. This was unfortunate, because then-Bishop Raymond Burke had wanted me to find out what was really going on with the Mexican economy as a result of NAFTA, particularly on the agricultural front.

I did get some sense of what was happening, which was not good, but the overwhelming sense I had was one of resentment against Church teaching on social justice. Nowhere was this more evident than in a day trip we took to Cuernavaca in the south of the country, the site of Cortez's castle. It's a beautiful place where it never gets below 55 degrees (F). But like the rest of Mexico, it is emblazoned with devastating and constant poverty. A quick drive around the city and you see half-finished houses with rebars sticking up out of them as cement is the building material of choice there. This is obviously subsistance living, but it's being carried out in a city which, while having loads of natural beauty around it, is still a city and not a place that makes it easy to grow one's own food.

A group of about three or four of us met with a family in their home in a new neighborhood in Cuernavaca. They had built it on land that the couple were able to take over because they found documents showing that the land belonged to them. It had been an act of derring-do, one done in conjunction with other people in the area, and one which could have resulted in violence. Fortunately, it did not.

However, these people did not rule out the possibility of using violence later on. There was another piece of property across a ravine from this particular neighborhood that was owned by someone else. The man told me that they wanted to get hold of that land as well. Well, I asked him, do you have any claim to that land? No, he replied. Well then, how are you going to get it? I queried. His reply, though not verbatim, was essentially, If we have to take it by force, we will.

As we sat in their house, which was still unfinished on the outside after six years of building, but was fairly nice on the interior, we asked them questions. One of the members of our group noticed two different pictures on their walls: one was Che Guevara; the other was of Jesus with a cross in his hand, but he looked like he was ready to mow down the next person who crossed him (pun intended). She asked the couple, "Can you tell me about the two icons you have up on your wall?" I honestly don't remember their reply, though I do recall how much they liked that particular image of Jesus because it showed he was going to do something and not just be mamby-pamby.

Indeed, this was evident in the cathedral in Cuernavaca. It is a beautiful exterior structure, but in the late 60's it underwent a serious "wreckovation," the likes of which I do not think have been seen in the U.S. It is now dark, sparse and what little furniture is there is made with ugly and sharp angles. There is no longer a womanly beauty to it, "like a bride adorned to meet her husband." Instead, the sharp angles characterize that of a man on a mean mission, like the picture of Jesus ready to mow someone down. That the bishop of the diocese at that time decided that the interior beauty the cathedral possessed at the time was somehow something only for the rich, and the poor needed to have ecclesiastical solidarity shown by stripping it of its adornment, is evidence of a systemized approach.

All of this went to contribute to this insight, which I am sure I am late at coming to: liberation theology is about systems, not people. Systems have people in them and place people below the system. What is important to systems is the process and the end result. The system liberation theology is concerned with is economics. While the poverty is dire and it is wrong for the people of Mexico or anywhere else to be left in it, liberating people from economic poverty is not the ultimate goal of the Christian faith. Rather, liberating people from sin is the ultimate goal.

And that is where liberation theology fails. There is no love present in it, the only thing that liberates us from sin. Rather, just as the picture of Jesus ready to mow down the next person who crosses him, it wants to mow down those horrible landowners who do not care for the plight of the poor. But that's not what Jesus would do. His solution is to bring conversion to them so that they have a change of heart and freely give of what they have been given, like those in the Acts of the Apostles who sold their land and gave the money to the apostles for distribution to all, or make restitution for what they took, like Zacheus the tax collector.

If this does not happen, the liberation movement will only enslave its adherents in anger, hatred and resentment and keep the fires of conflict between rich and poor stoked.