Thursday, May 30, 2002

Go read this, and then read this:

Is God a Sexist?

The discussion of whether or not women can be ordained tends to be negative: we can't do it because Jesus didn't do it, the apostles didn't do it, and the pope said in an infallible document Ordinatio Sacerdotalis that the Church can't do it. So it is not going to happen, ever. But arguments like this are ultimately unconvincing to many people because they only tell us of the legal fact that it is not going to happen. But they don't tell us the reasoning or justification for the fact. It is like asking "why do we drive on the right side of the street?" and getting the answer "because we don't drive on the left side." It is an answer, but not what the questioner is seeking. What is the why of it? In philosophical terms, what is the final cause? If we assume the Church is correct, and that God doesn't want women to be ordained, what is God after? What is the point of the restriction? Is God a sexist, or is it a case of the wisdom of God looking like foolishness to us?

I want to try to defend God on this score. Of course, I can't give an argument of premise A, premise B, therefore women can't be priests. Who can plumb the depths of God's wisdom? I wouldn't presume to try. In addition, Aquinas warns in the Summa Contra Gentiles that we shouldn't try to prove things we know only by revelation: it is not possible, and to do so only opens us up to ridicule. The proper job for philosophers in defending the faith is to show that although the given doctrine cannot be proven, neither is it ridiculous. So we get long explanations in the thirteenth century, not to prove the Real Presence, but to show that it isn't contrary to reason, just beyond reason; thus we get the word "transubstantiation." I am going to try to show that ordaining only males is not ridiculous or contrary to reason. I won't pretend to be able to give a precis of God's thinking on the matter.

  1. Does Sex Matter? What difference does a person's sex make? (Sex is the correct term: human beings have sex, nouns and adjectives have gender.) The conventional thinking is "not much." For example, a common argument for women's ordination goes like this: "You say that Jesus chose only male apostles, and that is why the Church ordains men only. But Jesus only chose poor men from Galilee, and so by your reasoning only Galileans should be ordained." The problem with this argument (aside from the fact that the apostles, who presumably knew Jesus' mind better than we, did in fact ordain non-Galileans, but did not ordain women) is that it equates a person's sex with a person's point of origin or economic status. Is being male or female just an accidental fact? Is the fact that I am a man of as little importance as the fact that I was born in Chicago Heights?

    We must address a residual Platonism in the minds of many people. Lots of people have the idea that the body isn't important at all. What I really am is what I think I am, not what my body is. This is why people substitute "gender" for "sex": sex is something imposed on us by biology, gender is something we can construct with our minds. Plato taught that the soul was trapped in a body, and that the real path for a true philosopher was to practice death, the separation from bodily existence. Being in a body is a tragedy, and the nature of one's body is inconsequential. (Perhaps one can see this in the trend of young people towards self-mutilation. They use their bodies as canvases for tattooing or piercing just like one would use any other object. The body is just an object for them.) The dominant thinking is that the soul is like a captain of a ship: if the ship is red, we don't apply redness to the captain. If the body is female, we don't really apply femaleness to the soul. Sex is something secondary, accidental to the true essence.

    If this view of the relationship between body and soul is true, then God would seem very silly to make any decisions based on sex. Hiring someone on the basis of the tie he is wearing in the interview is silly, and so is refraining to choose someone for a job because she is female. Femaleness carries no more import than wearing-red-tie-edness. God would in fact seem unjust for making a decision on something so inconsequential. This is what most people think: the Church doesn't ordain women. Being a woman is of little or no importance. Therefore, the Church is restricting ordination to men for a reason of little or no importance, and is unjust.

    But both theologically and philosophically, sex is something much more essential. Look at the beginning of Genesis: God creates man male and female: the differentiation of the sexes is divinely willed. God did it on purpose. Look at the descriptions of the two: woman is a help-mate, created because man alone was lonely. Man and woman are created for each other, and we are different so that we can complete each other. These differences are essential. Note also the different punishments as a result of original sin: man's punishment is related to his work, attempting to bring forth food from the earth. Woman's punishment is tied to childbirth and family: there will be pain in childbirth, and family life will be disordered into a role of subjugation. If sex is something accidental to being human, the punishments would be the same.

    Philosophically this separation of body and soul is a relic of Platonism or perhaps Cartesianism, as I said above. Plato taught that the human soul pre-existed the body, and that living in a body was a tragedy, since it prevented the view of the true reality of the ideas. The true philosopher practices death, as he says, since death is preferable to being trapped in a material body. But Platonism has been repudiated on this point: if the soul were trapped in the body, then existence would be pointless. Why would we have bodies at all? Why would we be punished by being put in a body? Further, why is it that when you cut my finger, I say "Stop cutting me?"In a very real sense, I ammy body. If you step on my foot, you hurt me. If you shoot my through the heart, Idie. If light enters the eyes, I see. The body is the sine qua non if human existence. It is not something separate from me, it is me. We are bodies.

    Aristotle's explanation makes much more sense: the soul is the first actuality of a body capable of having life. The soul is nothing more than the actuality of the body, the form of the body. We are not body-soul mixtures, but bodysoul creatures, or soulbodies. The soul is the essence of the body. No soul, no body. No body, the soul is an orphan. All of the soul's faculties are designed to work through the agency of a body. I see with eyes, hear with ears, think with a brain. I don't have faculties for life as a pure spirit. I would make a very poor angel. My soul needs a body to exist in its fullness. This is in fact why the doctrine of the resurrection of the body is so comforting: we aren't going to spend eternity as disembodied ghosts (who would want that?), but as real flesh-and-blood human beings.

    Sex does in fact matter, and there are essential, though complimentary, differences between men and women. If you have followed me so far, then you are ready for the next step: if sex is a matter of essence, and there are differences, isn't it possible, just maybe, that there is something in the essences of men and women that make it a good idea for God to pick men for the ordained priesthood and not to pick women?

    The next installment will attempt to come up with some guesses for what these essential differences are. Stay tuned!

If you are building a new church, you should hire these guys!
Thanks to Ad Orientum for pointing it out.

A PR firm hired by the Archdiocese of Los Angeles to deal with sex abuse scandals
Go here for the link. The article says it might cost $400,000 of the parishoner's money, or almost as much as it cost Milwaukee to pay off Archbishop Weakland's paramour. If the Archdiocese hired me, I would just have them read this, and then say "go thou and do likewise."

Wednesday, May 29, 2002

I've added "I should be reading" to my bloglist.
Let me know if you want me to put you on the list too.

Michael Shirley, in response to my response to his response to my stuff on the duty of dissent, says that, although he isn't sure about the infallibility of the papal statement on women's ordination (I honestly don't see any wiggle room, since the pope himself says it is infallible), "I disagree, and I think it's wrong, but I accept that that is the way it is."

Do we have to like everything that the Church teaches? No. I certainly don't like everything, and have my favorite sins that I would like to see taken off the sin list. But we have to accept it. I think there is a slight problem with Michael's statement "I disagree, and think it's wrong." We can't do that on infallible statements: if we think they are wrong, we are disputing infallibility, which is a denial of the Church. I would prefer he said "I don't like the decision, and would have done differently if I were God, but I accept that that is the way it is."

In any case, soon (probably tomorrow) I am going to post a series of reflections on why God might not have been ridiculous to restrict the priesthood to men. Of course I can't prove from some argument that God was right (who can know the depths of God's wisdom?) but at least I can use my poor human reason to try to explain why God might not be wrong.

Can someone please send me a note on how to set up comments? I must have missed the memo.

Tuesday, May 28, 2002

Belated response for for Michael Shirley
I should be reading had comments about my earlier post on conscience and the duties of dissenters. I apologize for not getting to this sooner, but there are lots of bloggers at St. Blog's, and only so much time. Anyway, he asks me to clarify the terms "dissent" and "prayerful acceptance." As I see it, dissent is refusing to believe a particular teaching of the Church is true. In the context of women's ordination this would mean refusing to believe that women will never be ordained, or that the Church has no power to ordain them, since this has been defined infallibly by the pope. So if you hold out hope for it to happen, you are dissenting.

Does this mean that one has to like everything taught by the Church? Of course not. I don't particularly like the rules that I have to love my enemies; I would rather cheerfully hate them. Does this mean one has to understand everything taught by the Church? Of course not. I don't understand the Trinity, and don't have any hope that I will. But it means I have to accept them with the "obedience of faith," to quote Saint Paul and Lumen Gentium. I accept them as true, not because I like them or because I understand, but because the Church founded by Christ and preserved by the Holy Spirit teaches them to be true. We have a duty to accept prayerfully that which the Church teaches. So we say to ourselves "it must be true, even though I don't like it or understand it. I will take it on faith, but I will study and pray to understand it."

In the case of women's ordination this is particularly important, because people who hold out hope for a change to the rules on ordination generally tend not to encourage young men to consider the priesthood. All of us need to be on board, encouraging the best of our men to consider serving Christ in the ordained priesthood. The continued recalcitrance on this issue is hurting the Church.

In any case, I am sorry I didn't get to this post sooner. If you post a reply to something I've written, do me a favor and send me a note so I know about it, and I will try to do the same. Thanks for reading!
Duty to annoy
I was thinking about the possibility for reform in the Church. Have you ever noticed that those who get the most attention and acquiescence from priests and bishops are the dissenters, the warm and fuzzy newchurchers, those who refuse to call God "father" and want the Church to accept abortion, contraception, homosexual behavior, and the Unitarian equivalence of religion? The bishops of the Church seem to be afraid of these people! The doctrine of the Church that is preached is limited by the amount of annoyance that the opponents of the doctrine will have to endure. Are some people in the Church offended by "sexist" language? Then I better say "sisters and brothers" all the time, and God forbid I say "God the Father." Are some people offended by Humanae Vitae? Then I better not ever mention that birth control is a mortal sin! Do some people think that the liturgy is too "vertical" and not "horizontal" enough? Then I better eliminate all reverence from the liturgy and make it into an extended verse of Kumbaya. Do we have Muslims or Buddhists in the neighborhood? Then I better not say that Catholicism is the One True Faith, and that people need to be Catholic to be saved! I might offend people.

My oldest brother, who says lots of smart things (and plenty of stupid ones), said one extremely smart thing a while back: "If people are going to try to be offended, I am going to work to offend them!" I think we worry far too much what the world will think of us, should we preach the fullness of our Faith. But think of it this way: if people are offended by the truth, and it is our duty to teach the truth, it becomes our duty to offend them! If doing the right thing offends people, we must offend them. If Sister Steinem thinks that abortion should be legal and free, and we know that abortion is a grave evil, then we are duty bound to tick off Sr. Steinem.

Why is it that the faithful feel uncomfortable in the Church, and the unfaithful feel comfortable? We need to reverse this. Those who oppose the teachings of Christ, whether priest, bishop, or laity, must not be allowed to be comfortable in their unbelief. If they insist on riding in the Barque of Peter, they should at least get seasick when they rock the boat.
Cure for what ails you
Read Church history. Currently I am reading Triumph, a gift from my wonderful wife, and it is good to see that Things Have Been Worse. Which would you rather have, a clergy scandal, or a majority of bishops supporting heresy with Attila the Hun waiting outside the gates? It helps to have some perspective. Yes, the current scandal is very bad, but things have been as bad or worse before, lots of times, and God always wins.

A friend of mine used to say to me that I shouldn't worry: the war is over: God won when Christ died and rose from the dead. The devil has been conquered, but battles are still being fought. Be confident that we are on the winning side, and that in fact we have already won.

(I'll give a review of Triumph when I finish it.)

Sunday, May 26, 2002

God and marriage

I went to a Catholic wedding yesterday; no blue stone toads except
that the priest said "thank you" after we said "and
also with you." The bride chose Ephesians 5 for the reading. You
know, the one about wives submitting to their husbands. St. Paul
compares the relationship of husband and wife to the relationship
between God and his Church. I started to think about how this works:
how exactly does marriage symbolize our relationship to God? In
particular, how does the sexual act symbolize it? One must remember,
as Pseudo-Dionysius points out, that the whole world is symbolic of
God in some way, since he created it all. So even something like
sexuality is a fruitful place to look for symbols of divine

If God is the groom, and we are the bride, then the symbol works
like this: God corresponds to the male, and we to the female. This
holds true if we extend the symbol from the bride/groom concept to
the actual physical relationship between bride and groom. (I'm going
to get a little R-rated here.) Think of what happens: the woman
invites the man, opens herself to the man and takes him within
herself. The man is not changed by this action, but the woman can be
profoundly changed: as a result of giving herself to the man, she can
become pregnant, bringing new life from within herself. This
pregnancy, if it is to come to term, is going to take nine months and
will change the woman's entire physiology, until through the pains of
labor the new child is brought forth into the world.

I want to compare this with the life of a Christian. Keep in mind
that from God's point of view in this symbol, we are all female. We
must pray and frequent the sacraments, and we must open ourselves to
the graces that may come. Should we do so, we become pregnant, in a
sense: God begins a great work within us that takes time and pain to
come to its fulfillment. Just as the sexual act doesn't change the
man, openness to God doesn't change God. But it does change us, as
profoundly as pregnancy changes a woman. We must cooperate with that
grace, no matter how difficult it gets, just as the pregnant woman
must take care not to damage the fragile life growing within her.
Furthermore, to bring the gifts of God to their proper fulfillment in
the world is going to involve suffering, just like childbirth.

For example, consider if one asks Jesus: "Lord, I believe.
Help my unbelief." (Mar 9:24) Perhaps someone has a difficulty in accepting
some aspect of the faith, and prays for understanding. The answer is
going to require that person to be open to God, open to the
possibility that God is right and that he or she is wrong. The grace
of understanding may take time to develop just as the pregnancy takes
nine months to come to term. The person who prayed for understanding
of God will find that he or she has to abandon many things, many
concepts once held dear, just as a pregnant woman must deny herself
many things for the health of the child. Finally, one will be
standing next to the chasm between the wisdom of man and the
foolishness of God, facing a choice: does one give birth to faith?
Does one take God at his word, and believe in things such as the
resurrection, the eucharist, and the forgiveness of sins, things that
no reasonable person could believe? It will be painful! Belief in God
carries consequences: if one does assent, life will never be the same
(just like the life of a new mother is never quite the same again).
We will not be able to act as we did before we believed: there are
moral and spiritual consequences of faith. (In fact, often
difficulties in faith can be traced back to difficulties in moral
matters.) It is painful to give birth. But what comes after the
birth? Despite the pain, the self-denial, and the great changes that
come about through pregnancy, afterwards there is a new life! If we
commit ourselves to God in faith, despite all the pain and
difficulty, we get new life, more abundant and joyful than the old

Friday, May 24, 2002

Memo to parents

74% of high school kids cheat on their school work. So your precious angel probably cheats. Do teachers a favor: when they catch your kids cheating, don't assume the kid is innocent. Don't call the teacher to try to bully him or her into changing the grade.

Bishop Weakland says he paid the diocese back with his speaking honoraria
for the half a million he had to pay because he couldn't keep his pants on. How big of him. Just one question: does he have any money left to pay the diocese so they can fix the mess he made of the cathedral?

Thursday, May 23, 2002

A short response to Sursum Corda on ordination of women

Peter Nixon writes about the magisterial authority of the church:

In the Catholic community, the Pope and the Bishops have been given a special responsibility to safeguard the faith that has been received from those who came before us and to pass it intact to those who will come after us. It is they who determine—after consultation with each other, theologians, and the community as a whole—whether particular beliefs are practices are consistent with what the Catholic community has believed through the centuries. For a Catholic, submission to the teachings of these authorities is the ordinary and expected response.

He is leaving out a big ingredient: the Holy Spirit. The Pope and the bishops do not simply determine what the Catholic community has believed throughout the centuries. We believe, rather, that they safeguard and teach the faith handed on to the Church by Christ and that their teaching is guarded by the Holy Spirit. It is not a matter of theological consultation; if it were, Humanae Vitae would never have been written.

Now, on to the important question: Is it possible for a correctly formed Catholic conscience to reject the restriction of orders to men? I think the answer must be no. Why? Catholics are required to accept with the obedience of faith all infallible teachings of the magisterium of the church. The restriction of orders to men is an infallible teaching. Therefore, Catholics are required to accept this teaching. There is no wiggle room. If it is infallible, it must be accepted.

Let's look a little closer at the dissenting conscience. In order to reject the teaching on ordination, one must not just reject this particular teaching, one must reject the teaching on infallibility from Vatican I, reaffirmed at Vatican II. If one rejects infalliblity, one must it seems reject the indefectability of the Church promised by none other than Christ himself. In other words, to reject the Church on this point means that one rejects that the Church is the true Church. Let me schematize:

1) The Church says: We are the true Church.
2) An integral part of being the true Church is the infallibility of the pope and bishops united to the pope.
3) The Church says women cannot be ordained. Further
4) The Church says this teaching is infallible.
Ok, so if the Church is wrong about women's ordination (3), that means that (4) is wrong, which means that (2) is wrong. If a church claims to be the Church founded by God, but makes such a big blunder on an important theological question, could it be the true Church? If 2, 3, and 4 are wrong, doesn't it mean that 1 is wrong?

So where does that put the dissenter? It seems to me that he or she has no other choice but to leave the Church. If you don't believe as the Church believes, why would you stay? I wouldn't be a Muslim if I didn't believe Mohammed was a prophet. So how can one be a Catholic who doesn't believe in the infallibility of the pope? A conscience that tells someone not to accept an infallibly declared teaching of the Church must also tell the person not to remain in that church. Anything less would be inconsistent. Of course, if the person were to balk at leaving the Church, I would suggest that rather than dissent, prayerful acceptance is the answer. There is faith that tugs at the person, leading him to remain in the Church; the dissenter ought to pray and work that this faith succeed in seeking understanding.

Oh, by the way, I am not directing this personally at Peter Nixon. I am just trying to work out the logical consequences of dissenting from Church teaching.

Blogging maybe light for a few days
since final grades are due soon and my weekend is booked. I should have a somewhat lengthy post tonight about dissenting and the duty of the dissenter. Oh, and thanks to all the people who have linked to me. If you linked to me and I didn't link to you, send me a note and I will try to add you to my bloglist.

Wednesday, May 22, 2002

Head and Heart

I had a rough 24 hours yesterday. I checked five late papers and found out that three had been plagiarized. Then the next day, I caught two students sharing a paper during a test. Five cheaters in one day!

Today I had to do the teacherly duty of calling the parents. The mother of one of the girls kept repeating that she had a really good relationship with her daughter, and that she just can't believe that her daughter would do something like that. In other words, my interpretation of the plain fact that her daughter's paper was in front of someone else should bow to the mother's warm feelings for her child. I very politely pointed out to the mother that it was possible, just barely, that her daughter actually did cheat.

The mother's thinking is an example of a widespread problem, that people think with their hearts (metaphorically speaking) rather than their heads. She feels that her daughter isn't a cheater, and therefore thinks that her daughter isn't a cheater, never mind the plain evidence. She is using her heart as a device to discover the truth. But here is the problem: the heart isn't designed for that. The intellect is the organ of truth in human beings; the heart is the organ of value. It is good to feel, because feeling gives us an insight into what is good. But we must think by means of the intellect in order to see if any particular thing is good or bad, true or false. The intellect gets to truth, the will chooses the good, the heart or affections help to tell us what is good.

But note that the heart cannot act on its own: it is not a reliable guide. For example, after discovering the cheaters, my heart was filled with anger, and would have led me to extremely bad actions if I had followed it. I needed to use my mind to figure out the right thing to do. Or consider the many horrible and failed marriages today: when asked why the women married that alcoholic, abusive man, she invariably answers "Because I love him!" To quote Golda from Fiddler, what does love have to do with marriage? Yes, use the heart as the guide, but use the intellect as the rudder to steer the heart. And don't ever say "feel" when you mean "think!"

Tuesday, May 21, 2002

E. L. Core read my women's ordination post
and pointed out to me an article he wrote on the subject. His
article is excellent, has references to the original documents of Vatican I, and also uses the words "plumb silly," which I like.
Adding some links
The Schultz's were kind enough to link to me, so I am returning the favor. See especially the discussion of clapping in church.
Also, there is a new seminarian at St. Blog's parish, Todd Reitmeyer. Apparently, he isn't just a sem, but is a Deacon! Go visit the Reverend Mister.
Blog was having troubles earlier today. I have fixed it, I think.

Monday, May 20, 2002

Is the restriction of orders to men an infallible teaching?
(I figured as long as I have this increase in audience, I ought to say something important.)

Take a look at the declaration Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, which John Paul II wrote in 1994. Concerning the possibility, he writes: "Wherefore, in order that all doubt may be removed regarding a matter of great importance, a matter which pertains to the Church's divine constitution itself, in virtue of my ministry of confirming the brethren (cf. Lk 22:32) I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church's faithful."

Read that closely. Now take a look at what Vatican II says about papal infallibity in Lumen Gentium: "And this is the infallibility which the Roman Pontiff, the head of the college of bishops, enjoys in virtue of his office, when, (2) as the supreme shepherd and teacher of all the faithful, who confirms his brethren in their faith, (3) by a definitive act he proclaims a (1) doctrine of faith or morals. And therefore his definitions, of themselves, and not from the consent of the Church, are justly styled irreformable, since they are pronounced with the assistance of the Holy Spirit, promised to him in blessed Peter, and therefore they need no approval of others, nor do they allow an appeal to any other judgment."

So what, according to Vatican II, makes a papal teaching infallible? When he (1) proclaims a doctrine of faith or morals as (2) supreme shepherd and teacher of the faithful (3) by a definitive act. Now look at the declartion on women's ordination: the pope says "by virtue of my ministry of confirming the brethren", therefore as supreme shepherd (2), he defines (3): "I declare that the Church has no authority. . . and this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church's faithful" a doctrine of faith and morals (1): "no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women."

It looks like the restriction of orders to men is infallible! But don't take my word for it: look at what the Congregation fo the Doctrine of the Faith says: "This teaching requires definitive assent, since, founded on the written Word of God, and from the beginning constantly preserved and applied in the Tradition of the Church, it has been set forth infallibly by the ordinary and universal Magisterium (cf. Second Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium 25, 2). Thus, in the present circumstances, the Roman Pontiff, exercising his proper office of confirming the brethren (cf. Lk 22:32), has handed on this same teaching by a formal declaration, explicitly stating what is to be held always, everywhere, and by all, as belonging to the deposit of the faith.

The Sovereign Pontiff John Paul II, at the Audience granted to the undersigned Cardinal Prefect, approved this Reply, adopted in the ordinary session of this Congregation, and ordered it to be published."

So the pope approved a document that said that the teaching on the ordination of women is infallible. This means not only won't it change in the near future, but that it will never ever change.

The uniqueness of the Catholic Church is that it claims infallibility in its teachings. If you argue for women's ordination, you are not just arguing for a particular point of sacramental discipline, but you are arguing that the Catholic Church is not the Catholic Church. The debate goes to the heart of the Church, and indicates that there is a fundamental problem with our ecclesiology. You are saying, when you argue that the pope was wrong, even though he was speaking infallibly, that the pope doesn't have the charism of infallibility, and that the Church was wrong to say so at Vatican I and II. This means that the Catholic Church isn't the One True Church.

May I suggest if you don't like this teaching, or don't understand it, embrace it! It is given to you by the Church Jesus founded. I don't quite understand why Jesus chose and chooses only men--I will ask him when I see him. But it is universally the case that by prayerfully embracing a difficult teaching, one finds grace and hidden depths.

Sunday, May 19, 2002

Cranky Professor has a few thoughts on Cardinal George.

He notes that Cardinal George has taken a vow of poverty, but that the priests of the diocese have not. This is certainly true. But priests are also to lead lives of simplicity, as it says in Canon 282. Yes, diocesan priests are not required to sell all they have and live in poverty, but they are encouraged to lead a simple life. It is not a strict duty, but a supererogatory duty, sort of like "Love your enemies, do good to those who hurt you." The rule itself doesn't say how we are to fulfill the rule, but leaves it up to us. A good example from the Cardinal may encourage his priests to fulfill this duty better.

Cranky Professor worries that selling the episcopal mansion will be used as a justification for priests moving further from their parishes. I am not certain that this will be used as a reason to sell off property. Rectories are adjacent to churches, and cannot easily be sold. Condos and priest-houses can be sold. I think this would rather encourage priests to live back in the rectories. Remember, the bishop's mansion is not adjacent to the cathedral, but is in fact quite a distance away.

He asks where the Cardinal will live. I don't know yet. There are archdiocesan buildings adjacent to the cathedral. I hope that he will just take a few rooms there. I will let you know if I hear anything.

Interestingly, the Chicago Tribune has a short article on the ordinations that talks only about the scandal, and mentions nothing about the sale of the mansion.

Saturday, May 18, 2002

God Bless Cardinal George!

There is exciting news from the archdiocese of Chicago today.
During ordinations, Cardinal George instructed the newly ordained
priests, as well as the assembled priests of the archdiocese, about
their need to be obedient, especially in matters of liturgy, and that
they must embrace celibacy as a sacrifice in order to follow Christ,
and that they should lead lives of holy simplicity. At that point, he
announced that he plans to sell the bishop's mansion
as an
example to his priests. He said something like this (I was jotting
notes onto my program, and so may be inaccurate): "As
Archbishop, I will celebrate the liturgy in splendor; as priest I
will live poor, as Christ did."

The mansion is situated in the near north side, close to the
Hancock building. The property alone must be worth tens of millions
of dollars.

It will be interesting to see the reaction. I think it is
wonderful. Without coercion or necessity, the Cardinal is leading the
Church in Chicago back to apostolic simplicity, which if accompanied
by apostolic faithfulness and courage, will lead to a rebirth of this

I wonder where he will live. If the Cardinal needs a place to
stay, he can always bunk with me and my wife: we have a spare room,
complete with Winnie the Pooh wallpaper!

Friday, May 17, 2002

We have a seminarian at St. Blog's parish!
Steve Mattson, a seminarian in a large midwestern seminary, has started a blog of his own. Go take a look. I used to be his teacher, and found him to be intelligent and faithful. (I think I gave him an A.) I have also done some overdue updating of my links list.

Thursday, May 16, 2002

I get to go to an ordination Saturday

May is the month of ordinations and first masses, a time of renewal and hope for the Church. I am fortunate enough to have been invited to the ordinations for the Archdiocese of Chicago; I even get to be in the procession, since I taught a class at Mundelein last year. I was invited last year as well, but didn't go. I am going this year because I believe it is a more important time than ever to celebrate the great gift of Holy Orders. I have been privileged to go to about four or five ordinations, and I get teary-eyed every time, especially when the ordinandi are prostrate on the floor and we sing the litany of the saints. I have a vision of the entire Church, militant, triumphant, and suffering, joined as one, as we pray for the men who will soon become personae Christi for the rest of us. I can almost see Dominic and Francis (always mentioned together), Thomas and Bonaventure (likewise), John Vianney, John, Paul, Peter, James, the rest of the apostles, the great doctors and fathers of the Church, the desert monks, the saintly women, Catherine of Siena, Therese, Edith Stein, Mary of Egypt, Claire, Scholastica, and of course all of the untold millions of martyrs. I feel not just a part of a local church, but a part of a universal Church, a Catholic Church, that cuts across time and distance. At moments like that I believe that we can do anything, overcome any scandal, and weather any storm. We Catholics are not left alone to face the trials of sin and death; we have an uncounted number of saints and angels joining in the fight with us.

These twelve men who will be ordained are twelve more examples of Apostolic Succession. Cardinal George will place his hands on their heads, and by the power of the Holy Spirit they will be changed into priests, just as Cardinal George himself was changed through the imposition of hands by some previous bishop years ago. Imagine the chain of events: that bishop was ordained by another bishop, who was ordained by another, back and back further into time, through all of the history of the Church, the wars, scandals, heresies, and schisms, in an unbroken line until we reach a humble man, one of the Eleven gathered in a room to celebrate the Passover with their Lord, teacher, and friend. Every priest you see is a living link to Jesus Christ himself. Shake his hand! You will be taking part in that living chain back to our Lord.

But as much as Apostolic succession is a miracle, we have a much grander miracle. These twelve men, after they are ordained, will eagerly await their faculties from the Cardinal giving them permission to celebrate the sacraments in the Archdiocese. The next day they will gather with friends, family, and benefactors, perhaps in the parish of their own baptism, first communion, and confirmation, to celebrate their first masses. They will look down at the bread and wine, and nervously will say the ancient words of institution. They may have said these words before, and they have read them again and again in the gospels, but this time it is different: the words are efficacious, they are active, even miraculous. For, after they say "This is my body. . . ." that white object in their hands is no longer bread, but the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus Christ. The priest holds his very Creator in his hands. After continuing the words of the prayer, wonder of wonders, the miracle, which would be enough majesty for one lifetime, is repeated, for the cup has become filled with the blood of Christ, the very blood poured out for our salvation. The new priest then hands out God to his friends and family, for the nourishment of their souls and bodies. Such grace has God shown mortal man, that it is a wonder we can bear it.

These men are given other gifts, the ability to anoint the sick, to bless marriages, and to give the forgiveness of Christ to us when we fall away. Yes, they bear great treasures within vessels of clay, but no matter how much some priests have sinned, no matter how many have betrayed the great gift they have been given, we must always remember that the gift remains. They are Christ among us, and should be revered as such. What would we do without them?

Pray for priests. Pray for vocations, and encourage your sons to take up this wondrous burden. Also, attend an ordination or a first mass if you get a chance. It is the season!

Wednesday, May 15, 2002

Jesuits, Schmesuits
I came across this article while browsing the Women for Faith and Family website, which by the way my wife says I should recommend. Could the pope supress some religious orders again?
First in a probably long-running series of reasons why I think the New Jerome Bible Commentary is lousy
I was looking up Ephesians 5:21-33 in the NJBC, since I plan to do a few days on Paul's words about women and marriage, and what should I find but an explanation of the Christ=groom, bride=Church imagery: "Against the background of the ancient Near Eastern sacred marriage of the gods, the author presents Jesus as the bridegroom who cleanses the church, his bride, in the waters of baptism. . . ." (p. 890)

Ancient Near Eastern marriage of the gods? Don't these people read the old testament? There many images in the OT about God as groom and Israel as bride. Sample: Isaiah 62:5 "As a young man marries a virgin, your Builder shall marry you; And as a bridegroom rejoices in his bride so shall your God rejoice in you." The passage in Ephesians was written against the background of the Jewish scriptures, which talk about God as husband all the time. Paul was probably thinking of Isaiah since he had just quoted Isaiah in the previous chapter. Ancient Near East marriage of the gods, my foot!

Speaking of Edith Stein, here is a quote: "The distinction of the female sex is that a woman was the person who was permitted to help establish God's new kingdom; the distinction of the male sex is that redemption came through the Son of Man, the new Adam."
Thanks to Fr. O'Neal and Emily Stimpson for linking to my little attempt at moral theology.
If you haven't read it, take a look, and let me know if I've screwed something up. All comments are appreciated, especially negative ones.

Like most everyone else, I got a letter from Mars Hill Review: check out their website. And as long as you are looking for brain-stretching journals, check out First Things. (Fr. Neuhaus, if you see this, perhaps you could give me a free subscription renewal for linking you. Please???)

I've been reading Goodbye Good Men and have one thought: if they ever want to reform the teaching at the seminaries, they should shop for faculty here in Blogland! There are lots of smart, sensible people: just check out the links on the left and see for yourself. But if anyone happens to need a mostly Thomistic philosopher who knows a bit of Edith Stein to teach seminarians, send me an email.

Monday, May 13, 2002

Please help me out
I've spent some time and effort on today's blog. It has to do with whether priests making up the liturgy as they go is sinful, and if so what kind of sin it is. I would appreciate comments both positive and negative, but mostly negative; you will help me refine my argument. Amy Welborn especially should read this and write me a note, since I bought one of her books today!

Here it is:

Is Liturgical Disobedience a Mortal Sin?

We have all seen the problems with disobedient priests who adjust
the mass often beyond recognition. Is this practice acceptable?? Or
is it in fact a sinful practice? If it is sinful, what is the degree?
Is it grave matter? I wish to examine these topics. It is my opinion
that liturgical disobedience in fact constitutes grave matter, and
that those who willfully disregard Church law on this matter are in a
state of mortal sin. This is of course my opinion, and if I am wrong
in anything, I gladly retract it. [All emphases in quoted texts are

Is obedience to liturgical rubrics required by the Church?

Sacrosanctum Concilium
puts forward the various levels of authority for liturgical
adaptation in paragraph 22: "Regulation of the sacred liturgy
depends solely on the authority of the Church, that is, on the
Apostolic See, and, as laws may determine, on the bishop." So
the authority to change the liturgy resides in the pope or in the
bishops, as designated. The document also recognizes the possibility
that bishops' conferences may have this authority delegated to them,
so that within limits, a national bishops' council may make changes.

But there is an important and
often-ignored passage: "Therefore no other person, not
even a priest
, may add, remove, or change anything in the
liturgy on his own authority." (SC 22) So here is a direct
command from a document of an ecumenical council of the Church saying
that priests are not allowed to change the liturgy.
The canon
law of the Church reiterates the council: "The liturgical
, approved by the competent authority, are to be
faithfully followed
in the celebration of the sacraments.
Accordingly, no one may on a personal initiative add to or omit or
alter anything in those books." (CIC 846§1) So liturgical
innovation is clearly against Church law.

What are the penalties for breaking this command, either canonical or spiritual?

This is an important question, since disobedience on this matter
is pandemic. Canon law leaves the juridical disciplining of
individual offending priests to bishops. I am not interested in these
penalties, since as far as I know they do not exist: I don't know of
any bishop that has set out regular penalties to deal with liturgical
cowboys. But what sort of sin is it?

In the pope's letter
Vicesimus Quintus Annus, he
describes the seriousness of the offense of liturgical innovation:
"Others have promoted outlandish innovations, departing from the
norms issued by the authority of the Apostolic See or the bishops,
disrupting the unity of the Church and the piety of
the faithful, and even on occasion contradicting matters of
[Emphases mine.] (VQA 11) Further in the same document: "It
cannot be tolerated that certain priests should take upon themselves
the right to compose Eucharistic Prayers or to substitute profane
readings for texts from Sacred Scripture. Initiatives of this sort,
far from being linked with the liturgical reform as such, or with the
books which have issued from it, are in direct contradiction to
it, disfigure it, and deprive the Christian people of the genuine
treasures of the liturgy of the Church.
making stuff up in the liturgy disrupts the unity of the Church,
which could be considered a form of schism, and can be apostasy when
it contradicts the faith. (Think back to when the parts of the
Eucharistic Prayer are changed from "God the Father" to
"God", thus making the economy of the prayer an offering of
Christ through the Holy Spirit to God. Not God the Father, but to
God. This is in effect Arianism, a denial of the true nature of
Christ.) Both schism and apostasy are mortal sins.

John Paul II says more in Dominicae Cenae.
From paragraph 12 there are some relevant quotes: deviating from the
liturgical books sometimes may seem the right thing to do, but
"objectively it is always a betrayal of that union which
should find its proper expression in the sacrament of unity.
So it is an act tending towards schism, breaking apart the unity of
the Church. Even though in extreme situations (in a death camp, for
instance) one can deviate from the texts, "nevertheless in
normal conditions to ignore the liturgical directives can be
interpreted as a lack of respect towards the Eucharist. . . ."
Failure to show proper respect to holy things is the sin of
sacrilege, which is also a mortal sin.

What about the obedience that the
priest owes to the bishop and to the pope? Each priest makes a solemn
promise of obedience at ordination. He is expected to act entirely in
accord with the ministry of the bishop of his diocese. In fact,
Pastores Dabo Vobis says
"Indeed, there can be no genuine priestly ministry except in
communion with the supreme pontiff and the episcopal college,
especially with one's own diocesan bishop, who deserves that 'filial
respect and obedience' promised during the rite of ordination."
(PDV 28)
Lumen Gentium
says the same: "the priests should see in him [the bishop] a
true father and obey him with all respect." (LG 28)
Presbyterorum Ordinis 15, it
says that priests "will accept and carry out in the spirit of
faith the commands and suggestions of the Pope and of the bishop and
other superiors." What sort of sin would it be for a priest to
disobey? It seems to me that disobedience can be grave matter, if the
subject of the disobedience is serious. The texts of the Holy Father
given above make it clear that the liturgy is the treasure of the
Church, and is certainly serious matter. Thus disobedience could very
well be a mortal sin. Furthermore, if a priest breaks his promise of
celibacy, it is mortal sin: isn't it reasonable to expect that
violations of obedience are as well?

Consequences and Reflections

If I am correct, priests who make up the mass as they go are not
just breaking Church rules, they are endangering their immortal
souls. If they cannot be convinced to follow the rules for the sake
of the people, they could be convinced by the threat of losing their
salvation. If a large number of priests are in a state of mortal sin,
think of the consequences: mortal sin kills the life of sanctifying
grace in the soul. Without sanctifying grace, one loses the
supernatural virtues of faith, hope, and charity. Without these
virtues, it is more difficult, if not impossible, to believe what the
Church teaches, to maintain a hope in salvation, or to act with
Christlike love. Is it any wonder that so many priests do not teach
the truth of the Faith? They don't teach it because they are unable
to believe it themselves, having lost the supernatural virtue of
faith. I may be wrong in my moral theology, but my theory certainly
explains the deplorable state of much of the presbyterate.


If you have gotten this far, you've shown heroic perseverance and
I thank you. If you disagree with me, please do me the service of
writing me a note, telling me where I have gone wrong. I would like
to refine and tighten up this argument. So just click on the email
link on the left side of this blog and let me know. Thanks!

Sunday, May 12, 2002

Star Wars Thoughts

I've begun reading Michael Rose's book on seminary shenanigans, and I'm too furious to write anything churchy, except to recall Athanasius' quote: "The floor of hell is paved with the skulls of bishops." Maybe when I calm down I can write something rational. For now I want to talk about Star Wars.

I find myself with little urge to go see the new movie. The hype leading up to its release has caused me to think back on The Phantom Menace, and I have decided that I liked nothing about that movie except for the music, the final light sabre battle, and the ET aliens in the senate chamber. In fact, in thinking about the franchise, I find that I have only really liked two of the four movies: Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back. Ewoks spoiled Episode VI for me. Will the new movie be any better? The odds are 50-50, and the sight of Natalie Portman in a midriff-bearing outfit makes me think that Episode II isn't likely to be better.

I will probably just go see Lord of the Rings for the fourth or fifth time. It has arrived at the local discount theater.

Saturday, May 11, 2002

More Blue Stone Toads

I went for an interview today (to pick up some adjunct philosophy sections: my motto is "will teach for gas money!") at a catholic college in the area. I got there early, and decided to visit the chapel. I went in and found it, as usual, to be a very spartan room with movable chairs and no altar. They had sanctuary candles lit, which was inappropriate because the tabernacle was in another room, completely separate and down the hall from the chapel. But the chapel was not entirely devoid of decoration: there were icons of saints on the wall. Let me list some of the saints: Edith Stein (good), Benedict the Moor (good), Therese of Lisieux (good), Mohandas Ghandi (?), Martin Luther King (?), Dorothy Day (?), and Thomas Merton(?). At least the last two were catholics, and Dorothy Day may conceivably be canonized in the future. But what are Ghandi and King doing on a wall of Catholic saints, in a Catholic chapel?

So what's the problem with adding other wonderful people to a saint wall, you ask? There is nothing wrong, unless it is in a Catholic chapel. The saints are venerated because they show us what we are supposed to become. We are all called to be saints. The alternative is unthinkable. Our purpose in being created is to know, love, and serve God in this life and be with him eternally in the next. So we put up pictures to give us examples of people who have made it. In eastern Christianity, the saints are on the iconostasis between the sanctuary and the rest of the church. They serve as a symbolic boundary between heaven and earth. If you want to get to the sanctuary (heaven) you have to go through imitation of the saints.

What is the message if one puts non-catholic "saints" in with Catholic saints? Well, if Ghandi and Dr. King can get into heaven without being Catholic, then why do I have to be Catholic? Why do I need to worry about questions of the truth of the Faith? All you have to do is be a good person, no matter what your faith is! Now of course I hope Ghandi and Martin Luther King made it to heaven, as I hope all do. But to put them up on a saint wall is to answer the question "Why be Catholic?" with the answer "For no reason at all." It is no wonder that Catholics lack a missionary zeal. We don't believe that our own faith is necessary for salvation. If we don't think it is a treasure that leads to the kingdom of heaven, why would we share it?

Can non-catholics get to heaven? Sure, through the mercy of God. But they would have a much better chance, and a much better life here on earth, if they shared in the riches of the one, holy, Catholic, and apostolic Church founded by God.

Friday, May 10, 2002

I resisted temptation very well today

One of my students handed me one of those Baptist "How to Know 100% For Sure, Without a Doubt, That You Would Go To Heaven" pamphlets. Never mind that the sentence should read "will go to heaven." (The "would" would be proper, if there were a following conditional clause, such as in this sentence.) I was very tempted to take time out to discuss the flaws in the doctrine of assured salvation, even at the risk of offending the few Baptists in the classroom. Perhaps I will do so at a later date. But today I resisted and stuck to the plan.

We talked about the scriptural basis for the Papacy today instead. One of the many problems that can be traced to the general malaise in the Church after the 1960's is that there is a real loss of Catholic culture. There is little sense that one is part of a world-wide community with traditions and ways of thinking known to all. So when I brought up in class as an example of religious art that St. Peter always appears with keys, I was saddened, but not surprised, to find that none of the students had ever seen even a papal flag, or had any idea why Peter should have keys. This provided the impetus for a good discussion of St. Peter, the bible verses that provide the job description for the pope, and the general destruction of Catholic culture that occurred in the "spirit of Vatican II." The bad news is that few of the students had heard of any of this stuff before. The good news is that they seemed receptive, and also that they were generally upset to hear that their churches didn't have to have been denuded of religious art. My small sample of the Church militant seems to like beauty in places of worship.

This leads to a final parenthetical thought: is there anyone who really, genuinely, and honestly thinks that modern church architecture is an improvement over the tradition? Does anyone really prefer, say, the chapel at St. Joseph University in Philly to St. Patrick's Cathedral in NY?

Thursday, May 09, 2002

A minor and a major annoyance
My wife and I experienced a minor annoyance yesterday and today. Our calendar says that Thursday is the feast of the Ascension. So we looked around for a place to go to mass either yesterday evening or today. We showed up to one church that advertises a 6:30 vigil mass on holy days, only to find there was no mass. We tried several parish websites looking for some information about the feast, and got nothing. What was the matter? Were we the only ones who knew we had to go to church? The problem was that last year, the archdiocese of Chicago decided to make things easier and decreed that Ascension Thursday should fall on Sunday. But my lovely and gracious wife and I don't attend an archdiocesan church; we attend a Ruthenian Catholic church. nearby. We never got the announcement, and spent much time and effort looking for a mass to attend.

The major annoyance is that the bishops seem to think that being a Catholic is just too hard, and that any burdens need to be relaxed. Never mind that Jesus ascended forty days, not forty-three days after the resurrection. God forbid that the faithful be required to go to church on some day other than Sunday. Perhaps the bishops think that Catholics in America are so holy that we don't need the extra time in church.

Recall the commercials advertising for the U.S. Marine Corps. They show soldiers fighting their way through impossible odds in order to become "the few, the proud, the Marines!" What if the marines decided that being a marine was too difficult; they should drop basic training, change the dress uniform to be sweatpants and a t-shirt, and perhaps remove the fitness requirements. Would people want to be marines? The whole attraction is to be the best of the best. What if something similar has happened in the Church? For example, we used to have oodles of holy days of obligation, we had a strict rule on Friday abstinence from meat (a rule still on the books, by the way), and we had to do real penance. Now we only have a couple days of obligation, and it drops every year; we eat steak on Fridays, and we are likely to get a penance in the confessional "to sit for a minute and think how God has blessed you." Catholics are becoming more and more like everyone else. Where is the attraction? Where is the challenge?

If people are challenged, they will do great things. I say "Bring on the holy days!"

Wednesday, May 08, 2002

Sin or Pathology

I just skimmed through the deposition of Cardinal Law, and one thing struck me: the sin of abusing children was always described as a "pathology," a sickness. The problem with describing sin as a pathology or illness is that illnesses are not blameworthy. We don't hold someone responsible for getting the flu. So sexual abuse is a pathology, an illness that needs treatment. The Cardinal apparently mandated that the abusing priests get treatment, and then on medical advice had them put back in parish work. After all, illnesses can be cured. One cannot really blame someone with an illness. Illness is of the physical body, sin is of the soul.

But there is a problematic dualism at the heart of this kind of thinking. We are not creatures of spirit, trapped in bad bodies that go wrong sometimes. We are body-soul creatures. We aren't souls that have bodies, we are soul-bodies or body-souls. The scholastics put it this way: the soul is the form of the body. This means that the soul is the organizational principle of the body, so closely united to it that a body without a soul isn't really even a body anymore. The soul is to the body like the melody is to a song. No melody, no song. No soul, no body. Whatever affects the body affects the soul, and whatever affects the soul affects the body, because body and soul are unified in one thing.

So the view that some sort of evil behavior is an illness relies on this separation of body and soul to deflect blame from the sinner: it wasn't me, it was my illness, my poor sick brain! But there isn't any such separation. There is no soul of Fr. Geoghan separate from the sick body of Fr. Geoghan. There is only the body-soul unity. If his body did it, he did it. It was a willed deed. The word "pathology" is a cloak for the evil actions that he did. It isn't pathology, it is sin.

When Fr. Geoghan admitted (!) to the folks in the chancery in Boston that he had molested boys, he was not admitting a sickness, he was admitting a series of mortal sins. He was in fact admitting that he had created in himself a habit of committing mortal sins. Did he possibly have tendencies in his brain chemistry that made an addiction to such behavior easier to get? Sure. But he at some point "pulled the trigger," making the choice to drop his pants or abuse the boy. He made the choice! Body and soul, soul and body, he chose to do the evil action. It is not sickness, but evil, defined as choosing against the law of God. So Geoghan admitted to the chancery that he was an egregiously evil man. You don't put these evil men in treatment, you put them in jail and pray for them.

Perhaps at least after this horrible scandal we will be able to recover the proper use and sense of the word "evil."

By the way, Sean Gallagher says he is back to posting, now that the baby has arrived. Please go read his stuff.

Walker Percy

A friend points out to me how silly it is for me to explain what a placebo is while I expect my readers to know who Walker Percy is. (see two posts down). A good point. I explained what a placebo was because I wanted to emphasize the point: sugar pills work better than Prozac! But if you don't know who Walker Percy is, immediately go over to Amazon and order the following books: Lost in the Cosmos, Love in the Ruins, Lancelot, The Last Gentleman, The Second Coming, The Thanatos Syndrome, and The Moviegoer. Then settle down for a nice long weekend of good reading. Percy was a Catholic convert and writer from Louisiana who wrote about, well--anything I say about the novels will sound trite. Just read them. I brought him up in connection to Prozac because he himself suffered from depression, and it was his opinion that perhaps if more and more people are getting depressed, the answer is not to medicate them, but to figure out why they are depressed. Maybe they have a good reason. Perhaps it is the undepressed people who are crazy.

It's a small world after all.

One of my students knows the pipe bomber. Apparently she is a fan of the alleged bomber's rock band, Apathy. I will let you know if she tells me anything blogworthy.

Tuesday, May 07, 2002

So I lied.

But I can't resist posting this story. Apparently, Prozac and Zoloft work almost as well to treat depression as placebos. If you don't know, a placebo is a sugar pill. Somewhere (hopefully in heaven) Walker Percy is laughing.

Not much blogging today.

I don't have much time today, as I have been getting behind in grading papers and have to prepare some presentations. But if I were going to blog, I might have given you some thoughts about how teaching historical-critical method to scripture students is a mistake. You say "We have to look at Genesis according to its genre: what were the original writers trying to assert? It may not have been intended to be a factual historical account." They hear "Genesis is false" and conclude "I can ignore it." I also would have blogged something about how the plumbing metaphor makes sexual morality more difficult: I got get "release" or need ot get rid of "sexual tension." Never mind that sexual urges are not pressure buildups in pipes or tension in wires, but rather are motivations for willed human acts. But, like I said, I can't write that stuff today, since I don't have time.

Monday, May 06, 2002

Blue toads
Emily Stimpson was shocked to discover a blue toad in the baptismal font this weekend. She has decreed that ridiculosity in liturgy should henceforth be known as blue stone toads.

I thought I would add a blue toad story of my own. I was at Marquette a few years ago, and walked into campus ministry to go to confession. A Jesuit priest was available, and we went off to the "reconciliation room." He asked "How do you want to do it," which should have tipped me off that something was weird, and I replied, "The usual way is fine." So I confessed my sins, and, get this, he forgot the words of absolution!. I had to prompt him through the sacrament. It was the strangest thing. If the usual ritual was so unusual to him that he forgot it, I wonder what he did in ordinary occasions.

Needless to say, I never darkened the door of campus ministry again.

I forgot my email when I updated the template. I've fixed the problem, and so there should be a link on the left for my email, if you wish to send me something.

Sunday, May 05, 2002

Can Muslims be Evangelized?

A while back, I recommended that you watch EWTN “The Journey Home,” as they were going to have Daniel Ali, an Iraqi Muslim convert, on the show. Unfortunately, they were pre-empted by the special EWTN put together for the scandals. I finally managed to see the show yesterday as it was re-run, or rather run for the first time. I wish you all could have seen it. Some excerpts:

Fr. Matthew Carr, who works with Mr. Ali in the Christian Islamic Forum, mentioned that there is a presumption among Catholics that evangelizing Islam is impossible, that it never works, and that conversions never happen. This is fundamentally wrong. Fr. Carr says (I apologize if I misquote him) that “All people have a heart that is created to experience the love of Christ. It is what we are made for. We cannot presume that anyone is incapable of receiving the gospel.” I am sure he said it much more eloquently than I have remembered it.

Mr. Daniel Ali, who I suspect is something of a natural theologian (I hope he writes books), explained aspects of Islamic theology that I had never thought of. There is difficulty with the doctrine of the Trinity in Islam, says Ali, because for God to have a son, he needs to have a wife. In addition, Mr. Ali pointed out a problem in the Koran itself: Muslims believe that Jews and Christians received the revelation later given through Mohammed, but that we have corrupted this revelation, so that the Torah and the Gospels do not accurately represent this revelation. But somewhere in the Koran Mohammed is told that if he has difficulty understanding the revelation he has received, he should ask Jews and Christians. How could he ask them for advice if their revelation is fundamentally corrupt?

It was all very interesting, and I hope to learn more. I think that we Catholics are about fourteen centuries late in attempting to come to terms with Mohammed. It is easy to give up, but as Fr. Carr said, all people deserve to be evangelized, since it is what all people are created for.

Who is the patron saint of Blogging?

With the explosion of Catholic blogs, perhaps we ought to find a patron saint, since we already have a chaplain.. I know that St. Isidore is the patron of the internet, but I think blogging is unique enough that it deserves its own saint. May I nominate Blessed Josemaria Escriva? It seems to me that “The Way” would have worked very well as a daily blog. Incidentally, this book is now available for free on Whatever you think of Opus Dei, “The Way” is a spiritual masterpiece, and a useful reminder to us that we are all called to holiness.

Saturday, May 04, 2002

New Look!
I hope that this is a better look for the blog. I tried to find the most readable template possible.

I need to be very careful about what I am saying today: in no way do I wish to diminish the suffering of the victims of Shanley and Geoghan in Boston. Terrible things were done to them, and they should receive whatever justice is possible. But I have been thinking about the recent story where the archdiocese of Boston has backed out of a settlement deal. The settlement would have cost about $30 million, and was rejected by the finance committee of the archdiocese. Understandably this is causing much anger among the victims, who wonder at how the archdiocese coud be so cold-hearted, especially when the bishop lives in a mansion and worships in a cathedral. Why can't they sell their properties and pay the settlement? There is a thirst to bankrupt the archdiocese. Never mind that there probably isn't nearly as much money in Boston as people think: I have never been a member of a parish without a mortgage. Furthermore, it isn't Cardinal Law's money they are taking, but rather St. So-and-so's parish building fund. Let me be clear. It is perhaps not the worst thing in the world for a diocese to go bankrupt: we worshipped in houses and even caves in the early days of the Church, and we could do it again. Perhaps we should sell off churches to pay for the victims (we could start with the modern ones: they could easily be converted to convention centers, or Pizza Huts, but that is a topic for another day's blogging). It would be a warning to the future cardinal, as he leaves his apostolic palace in the trailer park, not to tolerate any dissent or bad behavior in his clergy.

But I wonder at what the monetary settlements solve. If my son, who is purely hypothetical at the moment, was molested by a priest, I would want that priest in jail. I would want the leaders who shuttled this priest from parish to parish put in jail as well. If laws don't exist to hold Cardinal Law criminally accountable for what he did, I would work to make such laws. But I don't think I would want money. How would that help? Sin cries out for justice, not cash. Once again, I am not saying that the victims should not get a cash settlement, I am questioning whether the settlement is going to accomplish anything other than making lawyers rich. What we need is not a transfer of money, but a transformation of hearts.

Friday, May 03, 2002

Words of Warning from Ezekiel
Concerning this scandal, I alternate from optimism to anger. My wife read some of the Fr. Shanley stuff yesterday for the first time, and she told me "I never realized just how bad this is." This got me back to the mood of anger. The evil in the Church is truly terrible. So I thought I would dig up something I read long ago about the duties of pastors.

In the 33rd chapter of Ezekiel, God says "So you, son of man, I have made a watchman for the house of Israel: whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me. If I say to the wicked, O wicked man, you shall surely die, and you do not speak to warn the wicked to turn from his way, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand. But if you warn the wicked to turn from his way, and he does not turn from his way; he shall die in his iniquity, but you will have saved your life." (Ez 33:7-9, RSV)

Scarier lines were never spoken. Those of us with the responsibility to teach the faith have an awesome and terifying responsibility: if we fail to tell the truth to those entrusted to us, the penalties for their sins fall upon our heads. If I am ashamed of the gospel and don't speak up when its moral teachings are ignored, then I am responsible for those who sin. If it is true for me, poor blogger that I am, it is more true for priests and bishops, whose primary job is to teach the faith to their flocks. What a grave responsibility they have! This means that the guilt for Frs. Shanley and Geoghan falls equally on the bishops who failed to reprimand them. Cardinal Law ought to resign, but we ought to pray for him, because he is in trouble by this standard.

As you know nowadays it is rare to find a churchman who preaches clearly the gospel of life. The truth of the faith is minimized, the gospel is subverted, obedience is nonexistent (especially in liturgical matters), and the wisdom of the Church is substituted with Chicken Soup for the Soul. Well, if the clergy will not preach correctly out of love for God, they ought to do so out of fear, because the sins that result from ignorance of God's law are going to be held against them.

Of course this doesn't let us off the hook, either in family life or in the parish. How many parishes are there where all sorts of silliness and worse is common? If we don't speak up, then we are at fault. We all have a responsibility to look after each other, and if one of us is going astray, even the pastor, it is our duty to call him back. A bishop once told me that if one hears heresy from the pulpit, one has the duty to stand up and correct it. But speaking for myself I know that good manners and cowardice prevents this. Do you know that when Nestorius preached that Mary wasn't the mother of God, that the laity were the first to oppose him? Don't wait for the bishops to defend the faith, do it yourself! All Christians have a duty to do so, and we get the grace to do so in confirmation. It is clear that we must.

Thursday, May 02, 2002

Happy Athanasius Day!

St. Athanasius is one of my favorite saints, because of his tireless efforts to defend the truth of the faith. The title of my blog is an allusion to a phrase that I saw in C.S. Lewis' introduction to one of St. Athanasius' books: Athanasius contra mundum, Athanasius against the world. Even though most of the bishops and the official power of Rome stood behind the Arian heresy, Athanasius steadfastly defended the truth. If only we were all so fearless.

If I had a dollar every time I met someone with a misconception about the Church traceable to the movie Stigmata, I would have about eight or nine dollars. Yesterday a girl in my class said that the Church had hidden part of the bible; it must be true, because she had seen it in Stigmata. I had her repeat after me: "It's only a movie. They make stuff up." This just shows the power of movies to shape the way people think, and the responsibility that moviemakers have to ensure they don't make garbage.

I updated my bloglist on the left. Actually, I stole the link list from the code on Emily Stimpson's page:Fool's Folly. Many thanks to those who have seen fit to link to me. I will try to say interesting things.

Wednesday, May 01, 2002

Are Animal Rights anti-Christian? (Surprise, nothing about Church scandals!)

I've been thinking about this a bit the last few days, as I have been wondering how good and decent high school students could choose the dog over the baby (see below). Those who argue that animals have some sort of rights usually argue in this way: "Animals have function X, just like humans. Humans have rights. Therefore animals have rights." The function X can change, from the ability to feel pleasure to the ability to feel pain, the ability to fear, to imagine, to do rudimentary thinking, to speak in a language (although claims of animal language are invariably overblown). The problem is that this leads to the legitimate conclusion that if I only respect animals because they show function X, then I can refrain from showing respect to humans who don't have function X, since, after all, humans are just animals.

For example: Peter Singer has argued that babies should be declared human until some time after birth, so that we can judge whether they will be able to fulfill the proper functions of life, as Singer sees it. If the baby is deformed in some way, or stupid, or too ugly to have a normal life, one can just kill the baby. Embryos don't think or feel, so they can't really be human, and thus are disposable. Old people who have mental difficulties or who can't lead good lives because of their age can be gotten rid of: in fact it may be their duty to die if they can't fulfill their proper function. All of these arguments, which are current, are based on the functional evaluation of quality of life.

But Christians don't think this way. All humans are worthy of respect not because of any function that they can perform, but simply because they are human. Jesus says that we should see him in every human being, and treat them as if they were he. Humans have dignity, and this dignity isn't based on what they can do, but what they are. Whether old or young, stupid or intelligent, ugly or beautiful, all humans are children of God and their lives are valuable. As Lois Mcmaster-Bujold put it, "Human lives don't add up like numbers, they add up like infinities."

Certainly we ought to respect animals, and use them as good stewards would. But if we give them rights, we diminish ourselves.

By the way, several blogs have linked to me, which I much appreciate. I will be updating my bloglist soon to return the favor.