Tuesday, April 29, 2008

In Our Call Lies Our Destiny

I read something yesterday from Thomas Hopko, the Orthodox theologian. He says this about Christians:

Their calling and destiny is to become by God's grace all that God is by nature.
Try reading that three times, slowly. Meditate on it a bit. It's much deeper and richer than it first appears to be.
I could write for an hour about the thoughts - and hope - this unleashes in me, . . . but I don't have an hour right now. And your thoughts might be better, anyway.
In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. (Philippians 1.4-6)
May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it. (1 Thessalonians

Monday, April 28, 2008

"I Never Predict Anything, And I Never Will"

The title of this post is attributed to Paul Gascoigne (1967-), an English footballer.

Throwing all caution to the wind, however, I am now prepared to predict that John McCain will win the Presidential election, and that he will win big. It will be a blowout.

The only thing that can change this is if the Democrats choose their VP candidate exceptionally well and the Republicans choose exceptionally poorly.

That's it. No analysis, no justification, no advocacy. Just raw prediction. If I end up being right, remember that you read it here first.
(And if I'm wrong, we'll just pretend this post never happened, OK?)

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Sunday Bible Trivia (#1 in a Nonexistent Series)

Just when I thought I knew everything, someone comes along to humble me. Here's the question: How many "birthdays" are mentioned in the Bible? Not in the sense of people being born, but "birthday" in the sense of observance or celebration of one's birth, as we use the word today.

Think of a number.


No cheating.

Page down a bit for your answer.

Two. Pharaoh in the OT (Genesis 40) and Herod in the NT (Matthew 14.3-12 & Mark 6.21-29).

Pharaoh celebrates by hanging his baker, and Herod celebrates by decapitating John the Baptist. A good reason to avoid attending birthday parties.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

The Greatest Apologetic is Love

The statement in the title of this post has been attributed to Francis Schaeffer. Regardless of its provenance, it came to mind when reading the following article from the AP in today's newpaper. It's edited below for brevity, but the full article is here.

Southern Baptist membership, baptisms decline in 2007
By ROSE FRENCH Associated Press Writer

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The number of people baptized in Southern Baptist churches fell for the third straight year in 2007 to the denomination's lowest level since 1987, and membership dipped slightly as well.

The president of the Southern Baptist Convention blamed the decline in part on a perception that its followers are "mean-spirited, hurtful and angry."

For a denomination that places winning converts at the heart of its mission, the continued slide is troubling and disappointing, said the Rev. Frank Page, the convention's president.

Part of the blame can be placed on a notion that Baptists have been known too much in recent years for "what we're against" than "what we're for," Page said.

"Our culture is increasingly antagonistic and sometimes adverse to a conversation about a faith in Christ," he said. "Sometimes that's our fault because we have not always presented a winsome Christian life that would engender trust and a desire on the part of many people to engage in a conversation on the Gospel.

"All Southern Baptists should recommit to a life of loving people and ministering to people without strings attached so people will be more open to hearing the Gospel message."

In the past 50 years, the number of annual baptisms per church member — a key indicator of church growth — has dropped sharply. Southern Baptists baptized one person for every 19 church members in 1950, a ratio that dropped to 1 baptism for every 47 church members in 2007, according to the report.


Me speaking, again: I'm guessing devotees of the in-your-face Way of the Master methodology won't approve of the new Baptist approach. So be it. I'm loath to criticize any preaching of the Gospel - being well mindful of Philippians 1.15-18 - but all I see when I view their videos (or others like them, such as the one below) is a lack of humility and a lack of love. Why do people have to be berated into the Kingdom? Even if the presentation is doctrinally correct, can it not also be presented with compassion and respect? Why is conversation, rather than rank confrontation, forbidden?

The group that produced the following video has a rather extensive website, but I was unable to find anything about the effectiveness (fruit) of their methodology. I wonder.

(Sorry for any weird formatting in the last couple paragraphs. Some day I'll learn some HTML so I can fix my mistakes.)

Thursday, April 24, 2008

The Gospel of Personal Happiness

I was drinking coffee with my friend Jeff last night, and we ended up talking about one of my "favorite" authors, who was in town last week. Unfortunately, I didn't get to see John Eldredge, because his event was sold out.
Our discussion, though, was really about discipleship, how we are called to deny ourselves and give up our preferences and desires to follow Jesus. I didn't say that, Jesus did (Luke 14.25-33) - though I wish He hadn't. The issue, then, is not, "What is my passion?" or "What do I really want to do?". Rather, the demand of Christ is that we follow Him. Too often, we try to lead, deciding where we want to go and then asking God to bless us in our endeavor. "In Jesus' name," no less. It seems to me that Eldredge (and many others, including myself all too often) gets this exactly backwards.
Of course, I do believe that God gifts us and prepares us for particular places of ministry. But the command in Matthew 28 to carry the Gospel to those who don't know Christ and to make disciples of them is not negotiable. The only question is how God intends for us to do that.
On my drive home, I was listening to an interview and heard the following. I think it's a good descriptor of much of American Christianity, where Jesus becomes all about meeting my needs and helping me live a better life. He's my friend, and even my Savior, and boy does He add a lot to my life, but I'm not his disciple.
“We embrace the gospel of personal happiness, defined as the unbridled pursuit of impulse, yet we remain profoundly unhappy.”

Elisabeth Lasch-Quinn, in her introduction to Philip Rieff’s "The Triumph of the Therapeutic"

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Final (for now) Thoughts on the Pope’s Visit

May I share some of my thoughts-observations-conclusions about the Pope’s visit?

  • For a rottweiler, he’s pretty nice.
  • He doesn’t do the “pompous Pope” act very well. Although he dresses the part, his eyes and voice give him away as more friendly, shy, and pastoral than how we normally think of someone in his position.
  • For an 81-year-old, he’s quite vigorous. Simply reading his detailed itinerary for the 5 days he was here leaves one tired, but he kept up the schedule and never appeared wiped out or “aged.” That gives me hope for my own advancing years (though I’m still a few decades shy of 81).
  • The U.S. really rolled out the red carpet for him: the greeting ceremony with the President, the closing ceremony with the Vice-President, the provision of the President’s limos (amazingly thick doors!) and helicopter. Maybe other world leaders get that kind of treatment when they make state visits here, but I doubt it.
  • My crib sheet held up pretty well. The Pope is Catholic, just as I predicted, and his talks were big (for example) on his role as the apostolic successor to St. Peter, the centrality of “the Church,” and Catholics’ necessity for obedience. Those aren’t the parts I chose for inclusion in my daily highlights, but they were assuredly there.
  • Although there are significant, even intractable, differences between Catholic and Protestant theology, both sides of the fence have found a lot of common ground. And that’s not by denying the differences or deciding they don’t matter, but rather by realizing that the things we agree on transcend many of those differences. The divinity of Christ and the dignity of human life would be two of those things; there are more.
  • Finally for now, I find it highly interesting that the atheist sites I keep up with generally ignored the visit. Except for one flippant entry on FriendlyAtheist.com that didn’t even make much sense, I have seen nothing that shows any of the anti-religion advocates taking a serious look at the Pope’s visit and, more to the point, the philosophy behind the Pope’s many (and lengthy!) addresses. Instead, they seem simply to have pretended that the visit of the spiritual leader of one billion people just didn’t happen and that hundreds of thousands of people didn’t storm the gates to see him. Mockery looks shallow against this Pope, and perhaps the atheist bloggers, in a fit of insight, realized they were outclassed. Instead, they directed attention toward the movie, Expelled. Really, now.

Monday, April 21, 2008

The Pope's Last Day (in the U.S., that is)

If I hadn't seen it on video, I would think this event apocryphal.

For me, the most remarkable part of the Pope's Sunday schedule was his sendoff at JFK airport by 4,000 of his closest friends. Dick Cheney gave a speech that I didn't think an officer of our government would be allowed to give - plus, Dick Cheney isn't exactly known for his piety. And I'm surprised there's been no backlash. Maybe the press and the critics were just too worn out by that point to tune in to what Cheney said.

Here's Cheney's speech in its entirety, with the most striking paragraphs highlighted (by me). If you'd like to see the video, click here, then fast forward to minute 38. The video is even better than the written text.

Remarks by the Vice President at the Farewell Ceremony for His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI
John F. Kennedy International AirportNew York, New York
8:08 P.M. EDT

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Your Holiness, President and Senator Clinton [who weren’t actually there, after all], Your Eminences Cardinal Bertoni and Cardinal Egan, Your Excellency Bishop DiMarzio, clergy and religious, distinguished guests, and ladies and gentlemen, good evening. It's a privilege to join all of you as our esteemed visitor, the Holy Father, concludes his visit to the United States. It has been a memorable week, and Pope Benedict XVI has stepped into the history of our country in a very special way.

Some 60 million Americans belong to his fold, and all of America respects this messenger of peace and justice and freedom. (Applause.) From the nation's capital to this great city of New York, our citizens have received the Pope with reverence and with affection, with songs of joy and with prayers of thanksgiving.

Your Holiness, on your first apostolic visit to the United States, you've encountered a nation facing many challenges, but with more blessings than any of us could number. (Applause.) You have met a people of resonating faith who affirm that our nation was founded under God, who seek His purposes and bow to His will. (Applause.) You have seen a country where the torch of freedom, equality and tolerance will always be held high; a country where you, a herald of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the leader of the Roman Catholic Church, will always be welcome. (Applause.)

To our diverse country, you have brought a universal message of hope and salvation. You have spoken to Americans with eloquence and feeling, and for so many, these have been days of reflection and personal renewal. Whether in your presence or listening across great distances, millions have found in your words hope against despair, certainty amid confusion, and strength for journeys of their own.

Your Holiness, here in New York you have addressed the representatives of many nations, and celebrated the Eucharist before many thousands. And you have moved us, in particular, by your visit to Ground Zero. (Applause.) There, you prayed for eternal light and peace upon the innocent victims of September 11th, 2001, and you asked that the rest of us may live so that all who died on that morning may not have been lost in vain. That is our daily meditation as well, and it remains our daily prayer.

Your Holiness, nearly 57 years have passed since the day of your ordination as a priest in June 1951. You might have found it hard to imagine then that you would stand before all humanity as a teacher, a statesman, and the shepherd of more than a billion souls. That is what God has called you to do. (Applause.)

In these 57 years, your wisdom and your pastoral gifts have been extraordinary blessings to our world. In these six days, you've shared those blessings very directly for the people of the United States. Your presence has honored our country. Although you must leave us now, your words and the memory of this week will stay with us. For that, we are truly and humbly grateful. (Applause.)

And so with the greatest warmth and respect, we thank you, we bid you a safe return to Rome, and until we meet again we ask Your Holiness to remember in your prayers the United States of America. (Applause.)

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Benedict on Saturday: "Dear Friends, Truth is Not an Imposition"

Below are some excerpts from Benedict’s homily to the Catholic clergy in New York and his address at a youth rally in Yonkers. Click on the title if you’d like to read the whole text.

The best visual of the day (for me) was seeing him visiting a group of “youths with disabilities” before the youth rally. These were mostly children with severe mental handicaps, most of whom probably had no idea who this guy in a white dress was . . . if they even comprehended that there was a guy in a white dress standing in front of them and holding their hand or caressing their face. How significant it is that we Christians value human life simply because it is human life, and not for a person’s utility or his ability to enjoy a “full” life.

The best line of the day was at the end of the Pope’s address at the youth rally. Everyone started clapping, then he interjected, “Ach, I forgot my Spanish part!”

Oh, well. Guess you had to see it to appreciate it.

Homily at St. Patrick’s Cathedral

With great affection in the Lord, I greet all of you, who represent the Bishops, priests and deacons, the men and women in consecrated life, and the seminarians of the United States.

This is the message of hope we are called to proclaim and embody in a world where self-centeredness, greed, violence, and cynicism so often seem to choke the fragile growth of grace in people’s hearts. Saint Irenaeus, with great insight, understood that the command which Moses enjoined upon the people of Israel: “Choose life!” (Dt 30:19) was the ultimate reason for our obedience to all God’s commandments (cf. Adv. Haer. IV, 16, 2-5). Perhaps we have lost sight of this: in a society where the Church seems legalistic and “institutional” to many people, our most urgent challenge is to communicate the joy born of faith and the experience of God’s love.

Address at the Youth Rally

Young friends, I am very happy to have the opportunity to speak with you. Please pass on my warm greetings to your family members and relatives, and to the teachers and staff of the various schools, colleges and universities you attend. I know that many people have worked hard to ensure that our gathering could take place. I am most grateful to them all. Also, I wish to acknowledge your singing to me Happy Birthday! Thank you for this moving gesture; I give you all an “A plus” for your German pronunciation! This evening I wish to share with you some thoughts about being disciples of Jesus Christ

My own years as a teenager were marred by a sinister regime that thought it had all the answers; its influence grew - infiltrating schools and civic bodies, as well as politics and even religion - before it was fully recognized for the monster it was. It banished God and thus became impervious to anything true and good. Many of your grandparents and great-grandparents will have recounted the horror of the destruction that ensued. Indeed, some of them came to America precisely to escape such terror.

Let us thank God that today many people of your generation are able to enjoy the liberties which have arisen through the extension of democracy and respect for human rights. Let us thank God for all those who strive to ensure that you can grow up in an environment that nurtures what is beautiful, good, and true: your parents and grandparents, your teachers and priests, those civic leaders who seek what is right and just.

The power to destroy does, however, remain. To pretend otherwise would be to fool ourselves. Yet, it never triumphs; it is defeated. This is the essence of the hope that defines us as Christians; and the Church recalls this most dramatically during the Easter Triduum and celebrates it with great joy in the season of Easter! The One who shows us the way beyond death is the One who shows us how to overcome destruction and fear: thus it is Jesus who is the true teacher of life (cf. Spe Salvi, 6). His death and resurrection mean that we can say to the Father “you have restored us to life!” (Prayer after Communion, Good Friday).

Have you noticed how often the call for freedom is made without ever referring to the truth of the human person? Some today argue that respect for freedom of the individual makes it wrong to seek truth, including the truth about what is good. In some circles to speak of truth is seen as controversial or divisive, and consequently best kept in the private sphere. And in truth’s place - or better said its absence - an idea has spread which, in giving value to everything indiscriminately, claims to assure freedom and to liberate conscience. This we call relativism. But what purpose has a “freedom” which, in disregarding truth, pursues what is false or wrong? How many young people have been offered a hand which in the name of freedom or experience has led them to addiction, to moral or intellectual confusion, to hurt, to a loss of self-respect, even to despair and so tragically and sadly to the taking of their own life? Dear friends, truth is not an imposition. Nor is it simply a set of rules. It is a discovery of the One who never fails us; the One whom we can always trust. In seeking truth we come to live by belief because ultimately truth is a person: Jesus Christ. That is why authentic freedom is not an opting out. It is an opting in; nothing less than letting go of self and allowing oneself to be drawn into Christ’s very being for others (cf. Spe Salvi, 28).

What matters most is that you develop your personal relationship with God. That relationship is expressed in prayer. God by his very nature speaks, hears, and replies. Indeed, Saint Paul reminds us: we can and should “pray constantly” (1 Thess 5:17). Far from turning in on ourselves or withdrawing from the ups and downs of life, by praying we turn towards God and through him to each other, including the marginalized and those following ways other than God’s path (cf. Spe Salvi, 33). As the saints teach us so vividly, prayer becomes hope in action. Christ was their constant companion, with whom they conversed at every step of their journey for others.

There is another aspect of prayer which we need to remember: silent contemplation. Saint John, for example, tells us that to embrace God’s revelation we must first listen, then respond by proclaiming what we have heard and seen (cf. 1 Jn 1:2-3; Dei Verbum, 1). Have we perhaps lost something of the art of listening? Do you leave space to hear God’s whisper, calling you forth into goodness? Friends, do not be afraid of silence or stillness . . . .

Benedict on Friday

It was a bit jarring, I admit, to see Pat Robertson sitting in the audience at the Pope’s ecumenical meeting, yesterday – and he was sitting next to what appeared to be an Orthodox priest, no less. Not his usual homeboys! I guess Pat must not be one who considers the Pope to be the antichrist.

Nor are many other Protestants, it would appear. When I think of the history of the Reformation and its aftermath, it was astonishing and heartening to see the leaders who were introduced to the Pope at the end of this service. The head of one of the Lutheran “denominations” in the U.S., the head of the Presbyterian Church in the US, the leader of the National Association of Evangelicals, … these are people who would have been branded as heretics a few hundred years ago (if not even more recently than that), and people who would rather have wrung the Pope’s neck than shaken his hand. Obviously, much has changed on both sides.

Following are selected portions of the Pope’s Friday speech to the UN and the ecumenical gathering. Click on the titles if you’d like to read the entire texts. It’s been said often this week that the Pope speaks in paragraphs, not soundbites. That’s for sure.

Speech to the United Nations General Assembly

The principle of "responsibility to protect" was considered by the ancient ius gentium as the foundation of every action taken by those in government with regard to the governed: at the time when the concept of national sovereign States was first developing, the Dominican Friar Francisco de Vitoria, rightly considered as a precursor of the idea of the United Nations, described this responsibility as an aspect of natural reason shared by all nations, and the result of an international order whose task it was to regulate relations between peoples. Now, as then, this principle has to invoke the idea of the person as image of the Creator, the desire for the absolute and the essence of freedom. The founding of the United Nations, we all know, coincided with earth-shaking upheavals that humanity suffered when the reference to the meaning of transcendence and natural reason was abandoned, and in consequence, freedom and human dignity were grossly violated. When this happens, it threatens the objective foundations of the values inspiring and governing the international order and it undermines the cogent and inviolable principles formulated and consolidated by the United Nations. In the face of new and insistent challenges, it would be a mistake to fall back on a pragmatic approach, limited to determining "common ground," minimal in content and weak in its effect.

This reference to human dignity, which is the foundation and goal of the responsibility to protect, leads us to the theme we are specifically focusing upon this year, which marks the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This document was the fruit of a convergence of different religious and cultural traditions, all of them motivated by the common desire to place the human person at the heart of institutions, laws and the workings of society, and to consider the human person essential for the world of culture, religion and science. Human rights are increasingly being presented as the common language and the ethical substratum of international relations. Just like their universality, the indivisibility and interdependence of human rights all serve as guarantees safeguarding human dignity. It is evident, though, that the rights recognized and expounded in the Declaration apply to everyone by virtue of the common origin of the person, who remains the high-point of God’s creative design for the world and for history. They are based on the natural law inscribed on human hearts and present in different cultures and civilizations. Removing human rights from this context would mean restricting their range and yielding to a relativistic conception, according to which the meaning and interpretation of rights could vary and their universality would be denied in the name of different cultural, political, social and even religious outlooks. This great variety of viewpoints must not be allowed to obscure the fact that not only rights are universal, but so too is the human person, the subject of those rights.

Since rights and the resulting duties follow naturally from human interaction, it is easy to forget that they are the fruit of a commonly held sense of justice built primarily upon solidarity among the members of society, and hence valid at all times and for all peoples. This intuition was expressed as early as the fifth century by Augustine of Hippo, one of the masters of our intellectual heritage. He taught that the saying: Do not do to others what you would not want done to you "cannot in any way vary according to the different understandings that have arisen in the world" (De Doctrina Christiana, III, 14). Human rights, then, must be respected as an expression of justice, and not merely because they are enforceable through the will of the legislators.

Human rights, of course, must include the right to religious freedom, understood as the expression of a dimension that is at once individual and communitarian — a vision that brings out the unity of the person while clearly distinguishing between the dimension of the citizen and that of the believer. The activity of the United Nations in recent years has ensured that public debate gives space to viewpoints inspired by a religious vision in all its dimensions, including ritual, worship, education, dissemination of information and the freedom to profess and choose religion. It is inconceivable, then, that believers should have to suppress a part of themselves -- their faith -- in order to be active citizens. It should never be necessary to deny God in order to enjoy one’s rights. The rights associated with religion are all the more in need of protection if they are considered to clash with a prevailing secular ideology or with majority religious positions of an exclusive nature. The full guarantee of religious liberty cannot be limited to the free exercise of worship, but has to give due consideration to the public dimension of religion, and hence to the possibility of believers playing their part in building the social order. Indeed, they actually do so, for example through their influential and generous involvement in a vast network of initiatives which extend from Universities, scientific institutions and schools to health care agencies and charitable organizations in the service of the poorest and most marginalized. Refusal to recognize the contribution to society that is rooted in the religious dimension and in the quest for the Absolute -- by its nature, expressing communion between persons -- would effectively privilege an individualistic approach, and would fragment the unity of the person.

In my recent Encyclical, Spe Salvi, I indicated that "every generation has the task of engaging anew in the arduous search for the right way to order human affairs" (No. 25). For Christians, this task is motivated by the hope drawn from the saving work of Jesus Christ. That is why the Church is happy to be associated with the activity of this distinguished Organization, charged with the responsibility of promoting peace and good will throughout the earth. Dear friends, I thank you for this opportunity to address you today, and I promise you of the support of my prayers as you pursue your noble task.

Address to Ecumenical Meeting at St. Joseph's Church, New York

My dear friends, the power of the kerygma [proclamation of salvation through Jesus] has lost none of its internal dynamism. Yet we must ask ourselves whether its full force has not been attenuated by a relativistic approach to Christian doctrine similar to that found in secular ideologies, which, in alleging that science alone is "objective", relegate religion entirely to the subjective sphere of individual feeling. Scientific discoveries, and their application through human ingenuity, undoubtedly offer new possibilities for the betterment of humankind. This does not mean, however, that the "knowable" is limited to the empirically verifiable, nor religion restricted to the shifting realm of "personal experience".

For Christians to accept this faulty line of reasoning would lead to the notion that there is little need to emphasize objective truth in the presentation of the Christian faith, for one need but follow his or her own conscience and choose a community that best suits his or her individual tastes. The result is seen in the continual proliferation of communities which often eschew institutional structures and minimize the importance of doctrinal content for Christian living.

Even within the ecumenical movement, Christians may be reluctant to assert the role of doctrine for fear that it would only exacerbate rather than heal the wounds of division. Yet a clear, convincing testimony to the salvation wrought for us in Christ Jesus has to be based upon the notion of normative apostolic teaching: a teaching which indeed underlies the inspired word of God and sustains the sacramental life of Christians today.

Only by "holding fast" to sound teaching (2 Thess 2:15; cf. Rev 2:12-29) will we be able to respond to the challenges that confront us in an evolving world. Only in this way will we give unambiguous testimony to the truth of the Gospel and its moral teaching. This is the message which the world is waiting to hear from us. Like the early Christians, we have a responsibility to give transparent witness to the "reasons for our hope", so that the eyes of all men and women of goodwill may be opened to see that God has shown us his face (cf. 2 Cor 3:12-18) and granted us access to his divine life through Jesus Christ. He alone is our hope! God has revealed his love for all peoples through the mystery of his Son's passion and death, and has called us to proclaim that he is indeed risen, has taken his place at the right hand of the Father, and "will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead" (Nicene Creed).

Friday, April 18, 2008

Papal Tidbits from Thursday

If you missed the Mass at Nationals Stadium in DC yesterday, consider yourself blessed. The atrocious multicultural melange of crap music and spectacle has got to have the Pope taking names and kicking some ecclesial butt. If you don't know what I'm talking about, consider yourself even more blessed. But you can read something about it here.
But on to the task at hand. Here are some excerpts from a couple of the Pope's talks yesterday. Click on each title if you'd like to read the full text.

Homily in Washington, DC – Nationals Park

I have come to proclaim anew, as Peter proclaimed on the day of Pentecost, that Jesus Christ is Lord and Messiah, risen from the dead, seated in glory at the right hand of the Father, and established as judge of the living and the dead (cf. Acts 2:14ff.). I have come to repeat the Apostle’s urgent call to conversion and the forgiveness of sins, and to implore from the Lord a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the Church in this country. As we have heard throughout this Easter season, the Church was born of the Spirit’s gift of repentance and faith in the risen Lord. In every age she is impelled by the same Spirit to bring to men and women of every race, language and people (cf. Rev 5:9) the good news of our reconciliation with God in Christ.

Address to Catholic Educators

The Church’s primary mission of evangelization, in which educational institutions play a crucial role, is consonant with a nation’s fundamental aspiration to develop a society truly worthy of the human person’s dignity. At times, however, the value of the Church’s contribution to the public forum is questioned. It is important therefore to recall that the truths of faith and of reason never contradict one another (cf. First Vatican Ecumenical Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Catholic Faith Dei Filius, IV: DS 3017; St. Augustine, Contra Academicos, III, 20, 43). The Church’s mission, in fact, involves her in humanity’s struggle to arrive at truth. In articulating revealed truth she serves all members of society by purifying reason, ensuring that it remains open to the consideration of ultimate truths. Drawing upon divine wisdom, she sheds light on the foundation of human morality and ethics, and reminds all groups in society that it is not praxis that creates truth but truth that should serve as the basis of praxis. Far from undermining the tolerance of legitimate diversity, such a contribution illuminates the very truth which makes consensus attainable, and helps to keep public debate rational, honest and accountable. Similarly the Church never tires of upholding the essential moral categories of right and wrong, without which hope could only wither, giving way to cold pragmatic calculations of utility which render the person little more than a pawn on some ideological chess-board.

With regard to the educational forum, the diakonia of truth takes on a heightened significance in societies where secularist ideology drives a wedge between truth and faith. This division has led to a tendency to equate truth with knowledge and to adopt a positivistic mentality which, in rejecting metaphysics, denies the foundations of faith and rejects the need for a moral vision. Truth means more than knowledge: knowing the truth leads us to discover the good. Truth speaks to the individual in his or her entirety, inviting us to respond with our whole being. This optimistic vision is found in our Christian faith because such faith has been granted the vision of the Logos, God’s creative Reason, which in the Incarnation, is revealed as Goodness itself. Far from being just a communication of factual data - “informative” - the loving truth of the Gospel is creative and life-changing - “performative” (cf. Spe Salvi, 2).

When nothing beyond the individual is recognized as definitive, the ultimate criterion of judgment becomes the self and the satisfaction of the individual’s immediate wishes. The objectivity and perspective, which can only come through a recognition of the essential transcendent dimension of the human person, can be lost. Within such a relativistic horizon the goals of education are inevitably curtailed. Slowly, a lowering of standards occurs. We observe today a timidity in the face of the category of the good and an aimless pursuit of novelty parading as the realization of freedom. We witness an assumption that every experience is of equal worth and a reluctance to admit imperfection and mistakes. And particularly disturbing, is the reduction of the precious and delicate area of education in sexuality to management of ‘risk’, bereft of any reference to the beauty of conjugal love.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Not a Republican, and Certainly Not a Democrat

I wish I had the time and skill to flesh out this thought, but as I listened to the Pope's talks yesterday (at the White House and to the U.S. Bishops), it occurred to me that the Pope is a bigger booster of the United States than are the two Democratic candidates for President. He spoke enthusiastically about the force for good that our country has been, the generosity of our people, the vibrancy of our religious commitment, and the magnet we are to people of other lands.
The Democrats, on the other hand, seem to think this is a land of pain, suffering, bitterness, exploitation, repression, and gloom. They are dismayingly negative, despite the rhetoric of "hope" and possibility. I'm certainly not one to say everything's wonderful, here, but who's more right? I side with the Pope on this one.
(To be about as non-partisan as I can manage right now, I should add that the Republicans are acting like the anti-immigration party, and that's regrettable.)
By popular demand from my vast readership (aka Roy), here are some excerpts from last night's address to the Bishops. The entire speech is much longer, which you can read here if you like.

Brother Bishops, I want to encourage you and your communities to continue to welcome the immigrants who join your ranks today, to share their joys and hopes, to support them in their sorrows and trials, and to help them flourish in their new home. This, indeed, is what your fellow countrymen have done for generations. From the beginning, they have opened their doors to the tired, the poor, the “huddled masses yearning to breathe free” (cf. Sonnet inscribed on the Statue of Liberty). These are the people whom America has made her own.

Of those who came to build a new life here, many were able to make good use of the resources and opportunities that they found, and to attain a high level of prosperity. Indeed, the people of this country are known for their great vitality and creativity. They are also known for their generosity. After the attack on the Twin Towers in September 2001, and again after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Americans displayed their readiness to come to the aid of their brothers and sisters in need. On the international level, the contribution made by the people of America to relief and rescue operations after the tsunami of December 2004 is a further illustration of this compassion. Let me express my particular appreciation for the many forms of humanitarian assistance provided by American Catholics through Catholic Charities and other agencies. Their generosity has borne fruit in the care shown to the poor and needy, and in the energy that has gone into building the nationwide network of Catholic parishes, hospitals, schools and universities. All of this gives great cause for thanksgiving.

America is also a land of great faith. Your people are remarkable for their religious fervor and they take pride in belonging to a worshipping community. They have confidence in God, and they do not hesitate to bring moral arguments rooted in biblical faith into their public discourse. Respect for freedom of religion is deeply ingrained in the American consciousness - a fact which has contributed to this country’s attraction for generations of immigrants, seeking a home where they can worship freely in accordance with their beliefs.

While it is true that this country is marked by a genuinely religious spirit, the subtle influence of secularism can nevertheless color the way people allow their faith to influence their behavior. Is it consistent to profess our beliefs in church on Sunday, and then during the week to promote business practices or medical procedures contrary to those beliefs? Is it consistent for practicing Catholics to ignore or exploit the poor and the marginalized, to promote sexual behavior contrary to Catholic moral teaching, or to adopt positions that contradict the right to life of every human being from conception to natural death? Any tendency to treat religion as a private matter must be resisted. Only when their faith permeates every aspect of their lives do Christians become truly open to the transforming power of the Gospel.

For an affluent society, a further obstacle to an encounter with the living God lies in the subtle influence of materialism, which can all too easily focus the attention on the hundredfold, which God promises now in this time, at the expense of the eternal life which he promises in the age to come (cf. Mk 10:30). People today need to be reminded of the ultimate purpose of their lives. They need to recognize that implanted within them is a deep thirst for God. They need to be given opportunities to drink from the wells of his infinite love. It is easy to be entranced by the almost unlimited possibilities that science and technology place before us; it is easy to make the mistake of thinking we can obtain by our own efforts the fulfillment of our deepest needs. This is an illusion. Without God, who alone bestows upon us what we by ourselves cannot attain (cf. Spe Salvi, 31), our lives are ultimately empty. People need to be constantly reminded to cultivate a relationship with him who came that we might have life in abundance (cf. Jn 10:10). The goal of all our pastoral and catechetical work, the object of our preaching, and the focus of our sacramental ministry should be to help people establish and nurture that living relationship with “Christ Jesus, our hope” (1 Tim 1:1).

In a society which values personal freedom and autonomy, it is easy to lose sight of our dependence on others as well as the responsibilities that we bear towards them. This emphasis on individualism has even affected the Church (cf. Spe Salvi, 13-15), giving rise to a form of piety which sometimes emphasizes our private relationship with God at the expense of our calling to be members of a redeemed community. Yet from the beginning, God saw that “it is not good for man to be alone” (Gen 2:18). We were created as social beings who find fulfillment only in love - for God and for our neighbor. If we are truly to gaze upon him who is the source of our joy, we need to do so as members of the people of God (cf. Spe Salvi, 14). If this seems counter-cultural, that is simply further evidence of the urgent need for a renewed evangelization of culture.

Time spent in prayer is never wasted, however urgent the duties that press upon us from every side.

What is needed, I am convinced, is a greater sense of the intrinsic relationship between the Gospel and the natural law on the one hand, and, on the other, the pursuit of authentic human good, as embodied in civil law and in personal moral decisions. In a society that rightly values personal liberty, the Church needs to promote at every level of her teaching - in catechesis, preaching, seminary and university instruction - an apologetics aimed at affirming the truth of Christian revelation, the harmony of faith and reason, and a sound understanding of freedom, seen in positive terms as a liberation both from the limitations of sin and for an authentic and fulfilling life. In a word, the Gospel has to be preached and taught as an integral way of life, offering an attractive and true answer, intellectually and practically, to real human problems. The “dictatorship of relativism”, in the end, is nothing less than a threat to genuine human freedom, which only matures in generosity and fidelity to the truth.

Young people, if they know how to pray, can be trusted to know what to do with God’s call.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Your Crib Sheet for the Pope's Visit

Pope Benedict XVI lands in the U.S. today and stays until Sunday. There will be an overwhelming number of stories written and broadcast over the next several days.

To save you time and confusion, here's everything you need to know about his visit:
  1. The Pope is Catholic.
  2. As the earthly head of the Catholic church, he supports its doctrines, beliefs, and practices.
  3. Not everybody else in the world is Catholic.
  4. Some people, even Catholics, don't agree with the Pope's views.
  5. Calls for change and "progress" won't sway the Pope to abandon the historic tenets of the faith, any more than an appeal to declare "2+2=5" would entice him.
  6. The Pope is not running for office, and he is not a contestant on American Idol.

I think that about covers it, but feel free to add to this list. Refer to the list often if you get confused by all the muddleheaded reporting. Otherwise, pay attention to what he says (and not as much what others say about what he says) . . . he might actually have some interesting things to say.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Why the Pope is Fleeing Italy

The real reason for the Pope's visit to the U.S. can now be revealed. He's fleeing the execrable advertising of Italy's election for Prime Minister.

Former PM Silvio Berlusconi offers up this gem. Don't worry that you can't understand Italian. It might be a blessing.

Not to be outdone (?), mayor of Rome Walter Veltroni offers this desecration of the Village People:

As bad (and humorous) as these are, can someone please tell me why every Italian looks like a fashion model? If it's the olive oil, I'm going to start drinking the stuff.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Attending the Papal Mass?

As you may have heard, the Pope will be in the U.S. next week. He'll celebrate Mass on April 17 in Washington, DC. In anticipation of this event, the local transit system produced a commercial encouraging people to ride the subway.

The Archdiocese protested that the spot was irreverent, and it was pulled. I agree that it's not appropriate. Besides the hat being the wrong color, the depiction fails to show Benedict with a German lager in his hand. On the other hand, when's the last time you saw a commercial in Latin? Check it out:

Here's a short news story on YouTube about the controversy:

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

News You May Have Missed: The High Price of Racing Camels

From ArabianBusiness.com:

Dubai crown prince buys camel for record $2.7mn
by Talal Malik on Tuesday, 08 April 2008

Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashed Al-Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai, has bought a female camel for a record $2.72 million, the official Emirates news agency Wam reported on Monday.

The female camel bought by Sheikh Hamdan at a camel beauty pageant in UAE capital Abu Dhabi was the most expensive one bought, one of the organisers said."The crown prince bought camels... worth 16.5 million UAE dirhams ($4.49 million), including a female camel... for 10 million dirhams ($2.72 million)," Hamad bin Kardous Al-Amiri said, reported Wam.

Al-Amiri, who said the camel had been bought from seller Sari Al Mazrouie, was speaking at the sidelines of the nine-day beauty pageant, the Mazayin Dhafra Camel Festival, which opened last week on Wednesday in the Gulf state.

More than 10,000 camels, including females which are the fastest for racing, from across the region are competing for prize money worth $9.5 million in total. One hundred cars are also being offered as prizes.

The contest is part of a festival being organised by Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage (ADACH) that aims to celebrate and preserve the region's cultural heritage.

It is being sponsored by General Sheikh Mohammad bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces.

Abu Dhabi has previously produced the world's first test-tube purebred camel and has begun using remote-controlled robot riders in its camel races in place of child jockeys.

If the Sheikh wanted fast, he could have spent the same amount on a Bugatti Veyron - 0 to 60 in 2.5 seconds. Oops, never mind . . . it turns out he has one of those, already.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Once Commissioned, Never Content

"It is interesting to note that once Moses climbs Mt. Sinai and talks to God there is never contentment for him again. That is the way it is with us. Once we talk to God, once we get his commission to us for our lives we cannot be again content. We are happier. We are busier. But we are not content because then we have a mission — a commission, rather.”

— Charlton Heston, on how his life was influenced by playing Moses in “The Ten Commandments,” The Los Angeles Times, October 28, 1956