Wednesday, March 29, 2006


Last year, I participated in a pro-life demonstration. I was quite nervous about it, afraid I would get yelled at, as I held my graphic sign. It wasn't too bad, but I still wondered at times whether or not I should be holding signs up of the bloody reality of abortion on a public thoroughfare. Today in class I had an experience which confirmed me that this is the right thing to do.

We were discussing conscience in my ethics class. I was making the point that the fact that we respect conscience doesn't fit with the notion that cosncience is merely an expression of feeling; if it were, why would it deserve respect? Conscience is a judgment of intelect about moral truth. One of the students brought up the issue of abortion, where there are conflicting judgments of conscience. So, I decided to explore just what it is.

Professor Karl: Who here knows what the state of abortion law is in the United States?
Pregnant student: I think you can't get them after the sixth month.
PK: No. Let's try this again: are there 1) no restrictions, 2) some restrictions, or 3) lots of restrictions on abortion in the USA?
Students: Ummmm, 2? Some restrictions?
PK: There are no restrictions at all. Abortion is legal at any time, for any reason, in any pregnancy.
Students: ?!#$%!@?
PK: That's right. [to 7-month pregnant student] You are pregnant, correct? Seven months? Do you feel the baby kick? It's neat, isn't it?
Pregnant student: Yes, it is.
PK: Let me tell you what is legal. That baby, up to nine months in pregnancy, can be delivered up to a certain point, leaving the head inside, and then scissors can be jammed into its skull, killing it.
Students: Gasp!
PK: That's the state of the law in the USA.

The fact that none of my students knew what the real state of affairs was in our fair country confirms me in my decision to participate in more pro-life demonstrations this summer. Yes, the signs are disturbing. But people really don't know what is legal.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Unseemly eagerness

My home town paper (the Chicago Tribune) recently published an article by Dennis Byrne, who is understandably upset at the sex abuse crisis in the Catholic Church. He laments the times when oversight failed, when rules were not followed. But then, he shifts direction, and wonders whether the teaching of the Church is responsible for the problem:

"The recommended reforms are precise, so there can be no more excuses. But they are procedural only; the abuses have been so persistent, it's reasonable to ask if they are the result of something systemic about the church. Here the church must be willing to look at fundamental questions that are empirical, not necessarily theological, in nature: Are clergy more prone to child abuse? Are they more prone to same-sex abuse? Do other denominations have this problem and to what extent? If they don't, is there something specific about the Roman Catholic priesthood that leads to greater incidence of child sexual abuse? Is the something related to the vow of celibacy? Does it have something to do with the priesthood's male-dominated environment? Is it an institutional problem, flowing from the authoritative, hierarchical structure of the church?

The church hierarchy has steadfastly refused to acknowledge that issues of celibacy and female priests have anything to do with these questions. (We're told that "church tradition," not theological certainty, already has provided answers.)"

Never mind that he didn't do any research to look into studies of these problems. He was eager, very eager, to use the scandal to beat the Church up about the male priesthood, as were the commentors on his blog. One wonders if the reason why the sexual abuse in the Church is focused on so much isn't because of outrage over sexual misconduct (there's plenty of it in other denominations, in the schools, everywhere) but because of the teaching of the Church on human sexuality--it is so demanding, so countercultural, that any chance to tear it down will be seized. So, rather than attributing the sins of priests to, well, sin (that's the systemic problem), we attribute it to dogma or discipline. Pristes screw around (with boys! (not that there's anything wrong with that!)), and so they can't tell me I shouldn't abort/contracept/have sex with members of my sex!

I don't know what Byrne's position is on the teachings of the Church, but I would take more seriously the outrage of those who call on Cardinal George to resign if they were supporters of Church teaching, like St. Catherine of Siena, rather than Garry Wills.

The Darkening of the Sun

on Good Friday: Augustine makes an interesting point in The City of God: we know the event wasn't natural because the Jewish Passover is held at the full moon, and eclipses never happen when the moon is full.

Those ancients weren't dummies.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

There is nothing new under the sun

Take a look at Augustine's description of the attitude of Romans toward their government, and see if it isn't identical to most Americans' attitude. The social contract skewered, courtesy of Augustine of Hippo.

But the worshippers and admirers of these gods delight in imitating their scandalous iniquities, and are nowise concerned that the republic be less depraved and licentious. Only let it remain undefeated, they say, only let it flourish and abound in resources; let it be glorious by its victories, or still better, secure in peace; and what matters it to us? This is our concern, that every man be able to increase his wealth so as to supply his daily prodigalities, and so that the powerful may subject the weak for their own purposes. Let the poor court the rich for a living, and that under their protection they may enjoy a sluggish tranquillity; and let the rich abuse the poor as their dependants, to minister to their pride. Let the people applaud not those who protect their interests, but those who provide them with pleasure. Let no severe duty be commanded, no impurity forbidden. Let kings estimate their prosperity, not by the righteousness, but by the servility of their subjects. Let the provinces stand loyal to the kings, not as moral guides, but as lords of their possessions and purveyors of their pleasures; not with a hearty reverence, but a crooked and servile fear. Let the laws take cognizance rather of the injury done to another man's property, than of that done to one's own person. If a man be a nuisance to his neighbor, or injure his property, family, or person, let him be actionable; but in his own affairs let everyone with impunity do what he will in company with his own family, and with those who willingly join him. Let there be a plentiful supply of public prostitutes for every one who wishes to use them, but specially for those who are too poor to keep one for their private use. Let there be erected houses of the largest and most ornate description: in these let there be provided the most sumptuous banquets, where every one who pleases may, by day or night, play, drink, vomit, dissipate. Let there be everywhere heard the rustling of dancers, the loud, immodest laughter of the theatre; let a succession of the most cruel and the most voluptuous pleasures maintain a perpetual excitement. If such happiness is distasteful to any, let him be branded as a public enemy; and if any attempt to modify or put an end to it let him be silenced, banished, put an end to. Let these be reckoned the true gods, who procure for the people this condition of things, and preserve it when once possessed. Let them be worshipped as they wish; let them demand whatever games they please, from or with their own worshippers; only let them secure that such felicity be not imperilled by foe, plague, or disaster of any kind. What sane man would compare a republic such as this, I will not say to the Roman empire, but to the palace of Sardanapalus, the ancient king who was so abandoned to pleasures, that he caused it to be inscribed on his tomb, that now that he was dead, he possessed only those things which he had swallowed and consumed by his appetites while alive? If these men had such a king as this, who, while self-indulgent, should lay no severe restraint on them, they would more enthusiastically consecrate to him a temple and a flamen than the ancient Romans did to Romulus.

City of God, II.20

Monday, March 20, 2006

Augustine on why people love "Judge not, lest ye be judged."

(which, by the way, doesn't say anything about admonishment, which is commanded to us.)

"For often we wickedly blind ourselves to the occasions of teaching and admonishing [the wicked], sometimes even of reprimanding and chiding them, either because we shrink from the labour or are ashamed to offend them, or because we fear to lose good friendships, lest this should stand in the way of our advancement, or injure us in some wordly matter, which either our covetous disposition desires to obtain, or our weakness shrinks from losing."

Augustine, City of God I.9

Monday, March 06, 2006

Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

Ah. That felt good.

Those of my readers in the Roman Church are doubtless a bit scandalized that I shout "Alleluia!" from my web-soapbox. Isn't it Lent? Aren't we not supposed to say it? It's a forbidden word until the Easter Vigil in the Latin Rite. But, you see, I am a Byzantine Catholic, and I can say Alleluia all I want. Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

I'm not sure what the particular reasons are for the absence of "Alleluia" in the West. The woman on Relevant Radio this morning said that it was because "Alleluia" betokens joy, and Lent isn't a time of joy. This struck me as odd, and an area where the Eastern Church can enlighten us. What could be more joyful than a life of peace and repentance? To turn away from sins, especially those that have long held us in chains, is an occasion for great joy. To fast, to discipline one's body so that the needs of the soul may be better attended to, is an occasion to shout "Alleluia!" In our liturgy the deacon prays on our behalf: "That we may spend the rest of our life in peace and repentance, let us beseech the Lord." That's the goal of life, to spend it in a constant metanoia, a constant turning of ourselves back to God. In Lent we focus on this more, and so, in the Eastern Churches, we sing "Alleluia" more often than outside of Lent.

There must be a better reason for foregoing "Alleluia" in the Latin Rite than simply because it is too joyful. Lent is a time of exceedingly great joy.

Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Does your church have icons and statues of Christ and the saints?

If not, your church may be heretical iconoclasts. Consider this from the second council of Nicea:

To make our confession short, we keep unchanged all the ecclesiastical traditions handed down to us, whether in writing or verbally, one of which is the making of pictorial representations, agreeable to the history of the preaching of the Gospel, a tradition useful in many respects, but especially in this, that so the incarnation of the Word of God is shown forth as real and not merely phantastic, for these have mutual indications and without doubt have also mutual significations.

The fathers of the council declared that we should have pictorial representations of the Gospel to emphasize that what we say happened really happened.

If you think it is a mere matter of taste, and that St. Hoozitz is free to have a church as bare as a barn, look at this canon of the council which has never been abrogated: We, therefore, following the royal pathway and the divinely inspired authority of our Holy Fathers and the traditions of the Catholic Church (for, as we all know, the Holy Spirit indwells her), define with all certitude and accuracy that just as the figure of the precious and life-giving Cross, so also the venerable and holy images, as well in painting and mosaic as of other fit materials, should be set forth in the holy churches of God, and on the sacred vessels and on the vestments and on hangings and in pictures both in houses and by the wayside, to wit, the figure of our Lord God and Saviour Jesus Christ, of our spotless Lady, the Mother of God, of the honourable Angels, of all Saints and of all pious people.

If your church doesn't have pictures, it isn't really a Catholic church.

Thanks to the excellent Karl Thienes for the link to the council documents. Go here to read them.

Note: the previous post is a reprint. Having this blog for five years, I've written at least five times about every topic.