Tuesday, April 30, 2002

Looking in the Mirror

The buzz in Catholic blogland has been about the attempt to force reform on the Church by means of withholding from the collection plate. I hope that this initiative dies out for two reasons: first, it will only hurt the poor. Bishop Bumble is not going to be thrown out onto the street because St. Whoosit parish can't pay its mortgage. Second, the bishops are, I believe, a symptom of the problem, not its primary cause. Bishops are only part of the body of Christ. We are the fingers, toes, and organs.

In coverage of the scandal, the antagonist is always "the bishops" and the protagonist is always "the people." The evil bishops have betrayed the good and wonderful people. And they have indeed betrayed us. But the people aren't so innocent. Something like 90% of married Catholics of child-bearing age use artificial birth control; children are a nuisance, and large families are as unusual among Catholics as among the general population; vocations are not promoted; those who followed vocations have abandoned their original calling (how many vowed religious do you know who still live according to the spirit of their founder?); teachings on the true nature of sex are ignored or minimized: we may say that sex only good in marriage, but then we watch "Friends" or "Will and Grace" and see nothing wrong; disobedience to the laws of the Church is normal, and seen as a democratic virtue. In a situation like this, is it any wonder that we get bishops who do not have the courage of their calling, who are ashamed of the Gospel? Someone once said that countries generally get the rulers they deserve. Perhaps we have as well.

I am not suggesting that we are responsible for priests preying on boys. Rather, we are responsible for an atmosphere where holiness, faithfulness, and obedience are seen as bizarre or ridiculous. The best way to solve the problem will be for each of us to strive for holiness, faithfulness, and obedience. If the scandals offend you, don't put less money in the plate, put more. If it keeps you from mass, don't go every week, go every day. If you find it hard to pray, pray twice as much. Grace is the only way out of this mess. (I hope I can take my own advice.)

Monday, April 29, 2002

Hi. Some responses to Minute Particulars. First of all, I like hyphens! It is actually a stylistic point. I consider that the hyphen accentuates the prefix, so that "under-employed" is stronger in meaning than "underemployed." Besides, it is my blog, and I can spell words however I want. Second, the intro is supposed to be self-effacing. I am over-educated (overeducated if you prefer) in that I spent fifteen years in college, and I am under-employed in that I have little to show for it in the worldly sense; I don't think my comrades in Catholic schools would disagree, since they give up the high salaries of the public schools for the opportunity to teach in an atmosphere of faith. Furthermore, although high school is a worthy pursuit, and I feel privileged to be able to do it, I have as a goal a position teaching college philosophy. So I am under-employed (underemployed) in that I have not reached my vocational goal. I don't think I am guilty of credentialism, whatever that is. I have no contempt for high school teachers. If I did, I could certainly do another job. I teach because I love teaching.

The writer of MP asks if anyone really thinks such a silly question can actually determine how high-schoolers (is my hyphen inappropriate here?) will act. With all due respect, the writer does not know the students I asked. They are avid environmentalists and were quite serious in their answers. Further, of course they will never be in a situation such as I proposed on the raft. But they will be in similar situations as soon as they are old enough to vote. I will give you one example: should they vote for pro-life candidates? If they say in class that they are willing to throw the baby off, they are certainly likely not to consider the fetus worthy of protection.

So in conclusion, the writer is wrong about my students, who were in earnest, and I think he or she is wrong about me.

People actually read my blog! Hooray!

Just a couple of things this morning, and then I am off to work. I was asked in an email why I thought the students to whom I posed the boat dilemma wanted to throw the baby overboard. I think it has to do with an over-environmentalization of the kids. What happens is they hear over and over again how humans are destroying the earth, in classes from science to English to religion. They also hear that the earth is overpopulated, and that dire and horrible things are going to happen in the future because of human activity. Puppies, on the other hand, don't do anything bad. As one student (a brilliant girl for whom I have high hopes, although she is a non-believer at present) put it, the baby could grow up to be someone terrible, but we know the dog is going to be good. So, using the standard utilitarian calculus, the baby represents a great negative in utility units, whereas the dog is a small positive. Splash!

Over on Michael Dubriel's blog he quotes a seminarian who writes that a large midwestern seminary isn't at all like it is portrayed in the book Goodbye Good Men. I hope he is correct, and if it is the seminary I think it is, I would say that I think it has changed as well. But the seminarian says p.p.s. FWIW, I think there are some men who are too rigid in their embrace of ORTHODOXY to have any sense of mercy in their role as priests. I know some men back home who are immature in their orthodoxy. They are unable to tolerate sinners (and differences of
opinion), and therefore would be ineffective in the work of evangelism and ministry. All of that to say that "kicking someone out" for being "too orthodox" may not always be as bad as Rose seems to think.

I remember when I interviewed at seminaries (I spent two years at St. Charles Borromeo in Philly) that several of the interviewers at the other places would say the magic word "rigid." If I expressed faith in what the Church taught, I would get the answer "well, you don't want to be rigid." I don't know what that means. Rigid in what? Adherence to Christ? Admittedly, there are some people who are just jerks, and who would make lousy priests because they have no charity, but I wonder if "rigid" might not be one of those very fluid words that can mean anything, like "health and life of the mother" or "spirit of Vatican II."

Make sure you watch EWTN tonight. A guy named Daniel Ali is going to be on "The Journey Home," who is an ex-muslim who has founded a group to work with (which I hope means evangelize) Islam.

Sunday, April 28, 2002

Why Scandals are Good Things

The recent and terrible sex scandals that the Church is suffering from are in fact horrible and diabolic things. But much good may come out of it. For example, it must be becoming clear to bishops and priests that any dreams they had of earthly recognition and respect are gone. They will be hated, no matter what they do, because they (or their confreres) will be thought to be either responsible for the cover-up or asleep at the switch. All bishops will rightly be suspected of being collaborators, insofar as they supported the corrupt seminary system. No respect for individual hierarchy members.

Why is this good? Because there is no longer any excuse for being ashamed of the Gospel. In the past, as I am sure you have noticed, bishops have not disciplined rebellious Catholics, and priests have taken to giving milquetoast homilies from Chicken Soup for the Soul rather than teaching the Faith. Instead of teaching the truth about sexuality, for instance, Fr. Fred will give a reflection on how sharing can help build community, or some other such nonsense. Instead of proclaiming that the Church is the only true Church, rather than offend, he will talk about how our separated brethren and sistren share so much with us; it would be close-minded to insist that the Faith is true. Instead of proclaiming loudly and clearly the equal but different dignities of man and woman, he worries about offending Sr. Sophia by using the word "him" to refer to God. All of these (and I could go on) are attempts to be loved in the world.

But now this option has been closed. Catholics will not be loved by the world, no matter what we do. So we might as well proclaim the fullness of the Gospel--they couldn't hate us more. Joh 15:19 "If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you."

Saturday, April 27, 2002

I was recently pointed to Bishop Gumbleton's homilies, which are available at the National Catholic Reporter website. His response to the current scandals in the Church is an example of just the sort of muddy thinking that got us into the current problem.

Bishop Gumbleton talks wistfully of the Gospel of John: "The gospel of John comes out of a community where there wasn’t a hierarchy and there wasn’t structure. It was more of a charismatic community of people who knew that God loved them and who loved God, but then also realized that we must love one another. God is love, and those who love God, must love one another." Note his statement of the well-known "fact" that there wasn't a hierarchy in the Johannine community that wrote the gospel. There was a primitive church where everyone shared things in common, it was democratic, and there were no rulers. This is held out as the model for today. The gospel becomes a foretaste of John Lennon's Imagine.

Problems abound with this thinking: first, we have no evidence of the primeval non-hierarchical Church. As far back as we can go the written records, we find a rigid structure of bishop, priest, and deacon. I invite you to read the letters of Ignatius of Antioch or Irenaeus at the NewAdvent website linked to the left. St. Ignatius writes in the year 100 AD or so that one should always obey the bishop. St. Ignatius knew St. Polycarp, who was a disciple of St. John the Evangelist, and was probably a disciple of John himself. So historically, as close as we can get to the so-called "Johannine Community," we find hierarchy, contra Bishop Gumbleton. If there was such a thing as the Johannine Community, then it probably had St. John as bishop, since those apostolic fathers who knew him are very keen on hierarchy.

Furthermore, the good Bishop says that in John there is no structure of twelve apostles, and that the beloved disciple is more important than Peter. This is a convenient reading of the text for those who don't like the papacy, but it is only John who records the three-fold commision of Jesus to Peter to feed his lambs and tend his sheep. (John 21:15ff) In addition, in the third letter, John complains about Diotrephes for the reason that he won't acknowledge the authority of John.

Bishop Gumbleton is using the current scandals and some incredibly sloppy thinking to push his dream of a democratic church. But if the evildoers in the scandals had recognized their duty of obedience to the Church founded by Christ, they may have held more strongly to the teaching on sexual morality that arises from that Church.

Friday, April 26, 2002

Some news from the Catholic high schools: I asked my students today a moral dilemma: if one is stuck on a raft with a baby and a dog, and there is only room for two, but not three, whom should one throw off the raft? The overwhelming answer has been to throw away the baby. This is at a Catholic school, mind you. The reason given is that the dog will only grow up to be good, whereas the baby has the potential to be bad. Whatever happened to the Gospel of Life?