15 November 2008

More Dominican nonsense

Tom K at Disputations posts the following disturbing piece:

According to Nunc Pro Tunc, the following appears in the minutes of a meeting last month of the peace and justice promoters for the Western Dominican Province of the United States, in response to an email request that they "would consider the issue of abortion as a vital part of the agenda for promoters":

We all recognize abortion as contrary to support for all life, and we all support the life of the unborn. Following discussion, we agreed ... that abortion is not the central issue of social justice (although it is an important issue). In the past the overemphasis by some groups on the issue of abortion to the exclusion of other life issues, has been discussed. The group assembled decided we would recommend that abortion not be included in the new North American Dominican Call to Action.

Here's a PDF of the 2005-2006 Call to Action document, to give you an idea of what's involved.

Knowing "Justice and Peace Catholics" as I do I am not particularly shocked by this. This kind of bizarre reasoning is all too common among the breed. That Dominicans are taking this tact is sickening. The document, "Dominican Call to Action," rightly admonishes Dominicans to oppose slavery, the death penalty, etc. but fails to mention abortion.

I sent the following email to the Dominican Leadership Conference:

Dear DLC,

I recently read your document, "Dominican Call to Action," and it left me just a little confused.

Among other calls for justice, the document rightly calls Dominicans to defend human dignity by opposing human trafficking and the death penalty. Yet, I read no mention of the ultimate violation of human dignity, the legalized killing of the unborn.

I am assuming that our Justice & Peace promoters in the Order understand that no other human right makes much sense if we accept that a child can be killed in the womb. Why, for example, would trafficking in human beings be a problem for Dominicans if we are OK with killing children? Why is the death penalty a problem for us if we fail to oppose the killing of children in the womb?

The failure of the DCA to mention abortion lends moral credibility to those who traffic in human lives for profit and advocate for a wider use of the death penalty? How? Our silence on abortion undermines any claim we might make that the preservation and defense of human dignity is the goal of our Dominican pursuit of justice for all.

To say that I am disappointed in this document is an understatement. The document, in its failure to oppose forcefully the taking of innocent life, argues for everything it purports to oppose.

I would ask you to withdraw the document, amend it to include our common belief in the sanctity of human life from conception to natural death, and reissue it so that those who look to us and our Dominican tradition for guidance might be convinced that the human person is worth fighting for.

Your brother in Dominic,

fra. Philip Neri Powell, OP

I will keep you posted on any response I receive. Why not send your own charitable, well-reasoned email to the DLC? Email address: dlc@domlife.org

Why do I get this feeling that it is time for the DLC to be reconstituted?

Generosity works. . .

See how this works?

Because my book benefactors have been so generous lately, enough of my book budget has been freed up that I can take advantage of the great deal offered by the folks at Faith Data Base and purchase their CD of classical literary Church treasures.

There are hundreds of useful resources on this data base. . .all for about $30!

Thanks again and again!

Fr. Philip, OP

14 November 2008

God Alone is Holy

[Look! An actual homily posted on an actual homily blog. . .]

Dedication of St John Lateran: Ez 47.1-2, 8-9, 12; 1 Cor 3.9-11, 16-17; John 2.13-22
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Convento SS. Domenico e Sisto, Roma

You can’t live in Rome and fail to appreciate the power of buildings. Going every morning for my bowl of coffee, I see the Coliseum. On the way to my daily ablutions, I see the monument to King Victor Emmanuel II. Walking around Rome is an exercise in deciphering and glorying in the human desire for permanence on a grand scale—basilicas, churches, government offices, museums, piazzas, roads. However, each time I see the Coliseum and the Victor Emmanuel, I see resting between them what is left of the ancient Roman Forum, the heart and soul of a vast Empire, toppled and of little use now to anyone but tourists, archaeology grad students, and Rome’s ubiquitous sea gulls. What we build to mark our place and time—no matter how grand, how strong, how beautiful—it all begins to fade the moment we conceive it. The inevitable push and pull of seasons and tides wears the best carved stone and wearies the mightiest body of memory. No building of brick and mortar, or mere flesh and blood, or thought and deed can hold against the inevitability of eventual failure. Yet, we press our footprints in the sand and console ourselves believing that we have marked time and space with an indelible impression. What is holy endures forever. And only God Himself is holy.

If this is true, why does Paul insist on calling God’s human creatures “holy buildings”? He writes, “You are God’s building […] Do you not know that you are the temple of God […]?” Is Paul suggesting here that as rational creatures of God, His human temples, we will never fade, never crumble? Is he suggesting that because we are somehow unique in creation, we are preserved from eventual collapse? No, not exactly. We are thinking, roving tabernacles. We are shrines to a loving, living God. But these truths do not protect us from the wear of time and the inevitability of death and decay. We crack, weaken, become unleveled; we often spring leaks, break beams, rot from within. Paul’s point seems to be that though we decline with the seasons, our creation as privileged foci of the Spirit embodied strengthens our structural integrity with the promise of a divine renovation, a godly restoration that returns our curled and muted image back to the Original, back to Him Who made us.

Only what is holy endures forever. And God alone is holy. But we can share in His holiness. Though our monuments of stone dissolve over time, we can endure forever when we place everything we are in the care and control of the Father. Stepping into His loving providence, we step into His divine life, the surest preservation and renovation of creation. When Jesus runs the moneychangers out of the temple courtyard, the Jews object and ask for a sign to explain his rebuke. He retorts, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.” Imagine the incredulity on the faces of those who hear this incredible claim. Destroy the temple!? And you, one man, will rebuild it in just three days!? Unbelievable. Impossible. It took hundreds of men over forty-six years to build the temple and he wants them to believe that one man can rebuild it in three days. Not so incredible, or at least, not incredible in the way that the Jews think. John adds, “But he was speaking about the temple of his Body.”

What is the “temple of his Body”? Paul writes to the Corinthians, “You are God’s building…Do you not know that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” Christ was destroyed on the Cross. And raised in three days. The Church, the Body of Christ, will be destroyed and raised at the resurrection. You and I, temples of the Spirit, will suffer death, be destroyed, and raised again. Even though we are pulled apart by time and tide, suffer defeat in disease and decay, even though we succumb to accident and natural evil, in the end, we prevail. But we do not prevail on merit, or hard work, or by divine reward. We prevail by the gift of everlasting life freely given by God; He alone is holy. He alone defeats death. He alone brings new life from an ancient evil.

Our greatest efforts to leave behind us written monuments and chiseled temples falter and fail. Our best attempts to carve an indestructible message into the bark of the universe falter and fail. They falter and eventually fail because we ourselves are impermanent signposts, fading signs of an evolving creation. We could surrender to despair, or embrace the nihilism of our inevitable but temporary defeat. Many do. Those who do fail twice. They surrender to the impermanence of impermanence; that is, they give themselves over to the fleeting defeat of natural ends, and they neglect the gift of everlasting life freely given by the One Who is Holiness Himself. Everything we design, build, write, compose, paint, think, everything an impermanent creature creates will itself be impermanent. Political systems, grand philosophies, religious institutions, scientific knowledge—all will wane and pass away. Immaculately kept gardens, meticulously collected and maintained libraries and museums—all will find their decay. Perfectly sculpted gym bodies, surgically perfected faces and behinds, genetically altered DNA and sex-selected children—all will die. Only the temples of God will prevail in the end.

Does this mean that we are being foolish in pursuing created beauty? No, not so long as that beauty is understood as a creation of an impermanent creature. Given to the glory of God, created beauty is a form of prayer, a supplication and oblation to Beauty Himself. But it is an ordinary thing for that beauty to fail. Its ultimate passing should be celebrated as a sign of God’s singular holiness, a clue to the mystery of our life everlasting. To the degree that we participate in the Divine Life as gifted creatures, we are the most beautiful of all beings. The fact that we will pass away into natural death and rise again to a supernatural life must form us as children of God, shape our understanding of ourselves as creatures dependent on a Creator. We will be God but not without God.

God alone is holy. God alone brings us freely to His holiness. God alone builds the permanence of our lives after this life. God alone raises us up and places us at His table, our places reserved by His only Son, Jesus Christ. God alone makes all things holy.

Cringe-worthy comments from Domlife.org

I received the Domlife.org email newsletter just a few days after the election. The editors had solicited responses from OP's world-wide, asking friars, sister, nuns, and OP laity to write about their reactions to the election of Obama to the White House.

As I very reluctantly began to read the responses, I had to stop almost immediately because the evidence before me proved that even Dominicans could be taken in by The Messiah's slick rhetoric and hyponotizing charm. Even here in the Angelicum--despite B.O.'s taste for protecting manufactured "rights" against the lives of innocent children--several frairs were very public in their support of The One. They defended their choice with the predictable arguments of moral equivalence, "social justice" concern, and appeals to "historic opportunity."

Yes, it is both embarrassing and disheartening. Rather than post these responses when I first received them, I decided to ignore them and hoped they would be ignored. Unfortunately, they weren't.

Read them for yourself
. . .just don't blame me. Once upon a time readers could leave comments at Domlife.org; however, back then the site was operated by a student friar in St. Louis, but he lost his battle his keep the site when complaints from more "progressive" OP's to his provincial won the day. The site was turned over to the Dominican Leadership Conference and the first thing the new owners did--in defiance of all Dominican tradition of disputing important questions--was close down the commenting function.

Pure folly.

Sure, click over and read as many as you can. . .just remember: don't blame me.

12 November 2008

Communion and pro-abortion politicians (revised)

Another question I'm getting a lot these days: should pro-abortion Catholic politicians be excommunicated?

Should they be excommunicated? Yes, they should be. Are they excommunicated? No. And not because our bishops are being timid. . .

OK, having learned my lesson and submitted myself to the reality that I will never be a canon lawyer (thank God), I offer a quick revision of this post by quoting Prof. Robert Miller via Prof. Edward Peters (thanks to Zadok):

Canon 1398: A Clarification (First Things)

I wrote in this space yesterday about the controversy surrounding the remarks of Pope Benedict XVI concerning whether Mexican legislators who voted to legalize certain abortions were excommunicated lata sententia under canon 1398. As I stated yesterday, c. 1398 prohibits only “actually procur[ing] an abortion,” and as many of my correspondents have pointed out, it’s far from clear that this prohibition includes voting to legalize abortions.

I tacitly assumed that such was a possible interpretation of the canon, in part because one often hears this interpretation in popular discussions of canon law and in part because the statement of the Mexican bishops and Benedict’s subsequent comments (at least before the Vatican Secretariat of State rewrote them) necessarily presupposed that such an interpretation was possible. Clearly, if the canon does not prohibit certain kinds of actions taken by legislators, it would have been simply wrongheaded for the Mexican bishops to have suggested that the legislators were excommunicated for voting to legalize certain abortions and even more wrongheaded for Benedict to have agreed with them (again, subject to having his remarks corrected by Vatican officials).

It turns out, however, that c. 1398 almost certainly does not include actions taken by legislators. Dr. Edward N. Peters, who teaches canon law at Sacred Heart Seminary in Detroit, explains on his blog that, despite the persistent discussion of c. 1398 in such contexts, virtually no one learned in canon law thinks that it applies to actions taken by politicians in connection with legislation. In fact, according to Dr. Peters, it’s not even a close question. After reading his explanation, I agree, and I’m very grateful to him for calling all this to my attention.

Now that that's all cleared up, I return to the conclusion of my original post with some revisions. . .

Back to the question at hand, or a revised version of it: do Catholic politicians who lend their formal and material cooperation to the mortal sin of abortion incur excommunication? Not automatically and apparently they would not be actively excommunicated by the Church. Should they be refused communion? Generally speaking, yes, they should. Why? Two reasons. First, receiving communion is a public act that indicates that one is "in community" with the larger Body of Christ. I eat the Body of Christ and demonstrate in doing so that I am one with the Body. If I am in moral sin, I am not in the Body though I am still formally a member of the Church. To take communion after publicly formally and materially cooperating in the commission of a mortal sin, I cause scandal. To offer communion to someone you know is in this state causes scandal and might even count as material cooperation with sin. Second, when I take communion in mortal sin I condemn myself to death. None of us is worthy to receive communion; we do so only with God's grace. To receive the Lord in the sacrament requires that we be disposed to the grace that the sacrament offers to us. I am not properly disposed if I am in mortal sin. How can I be receptive to God's love if I have killed that love in my heart?

The sticky situation in individual cases for bishops and priests is that they can almost never know if the pro-abortion Catholic politician has repented of their formal and/or material cooperation with abortion at any particular Mass. It is entirely possible that Senator Bob, having read this [revised] post, has come to realize his error, gone to confession, reconciled with the Body, and come forward to receive communion as a public sign of his renewed love for God. I know, not likely but possible. The bishop or priest risks the presumption of sin in violation of the presumption of grace if he refuses Senator Bob communion. This is why bishops and pastors are obligated to speak directly and privately with those Catholics who publicly cooperate in the sin of abortion. In the absence of that conversation, it is impossible to know the heart of the pro-abortion politician. However, if the politician persists in public sin, the presumption of grace on the part of the pastor is justly weakened and the politician risks taking communion indisposed.

I do not believe that bishops and pastors are hesitating in refusing communion out of fear of bad publicity or out of a sense that Catholics are entitled to communion regardless of their spiritual condition. There is a substantial private component to receiving communion that is known objectively only to the individual. This has to be respected within fairly broad limits. This is why so many bishops have simply said to pro-abortion politicians, "If you have publicly given formal and material cooperation to the sin of abortion you should not receive communion." This is exactly correct. But when said politician comes forward to receive communion, the pastor has to make a different kind of choice for the benefit of the individual and the larger Body. So, the question for the pastor is, "what do you know right this second about this person?" Since it is almost impossible to know the internal disposition of any individual at any given moment, the pastor must presume grace and give the politician communion.

Two quick points. First, the pastor's concern must be spiritual and not political; that is, the pastor's proper worry needs to be for the spiritual health of his Church and the individual involved. Refusing communion as a political act, some kind of protest against the person is reprehensible. Second, NO ONE other than the bishop or pastor should make the decision to refuse communion (and even the pastor will need to consult with the bishop). To be very specific: if you are a lay minister of communion and you know with the certainty of the angels that Senator Bob is in mortal sin, you cannot, in the absence of an order from the pastor, refuse him communion. This is not your job as an extraordinary minister. If you have concerns, talk to your pastor, but do not take it upon yourself to decide who is properly disposed to receive and who isn't. You are endangering your own soul by presuming to know what you cannot know.

Again, my thanks to Zadok the Roman for his charitable correction of this post and for the links to the always reliable Dr. Ed Peters, Canon Lawyer, Extraordinaire! Here Dr. Peter's lays out some options for addressing Catholic pro-abortion politicians.

Blaming/Praising Men for Abortion

I've had the privilege of counseling women both pre- and post-abortion. Absent in every case was the father. Jeff Mirus at Catholic Culture offers this insight into the blame/praise that properly accrues to men in the decision women make to abort their children:

The pro-life movement also needs to make use of men who can get out the message of what it means to love. Brennan reveals this need in her own story when she notes that it was the departure of a man who actually treated her well that finally jolted her out of her self-centered, self-defeating philosophy of life. I have long argued that too many problems of contemporary women (especially the kind of problems that drive them to abortion) are caused by men who either do not know how to be men, or who refuse to be men—men who use women as toys, abandoning them when they no longer find them fun. Fathers who abuse and/or abandon their daughters; lovers and husbands who abuse and/or abandon their wives: These men are architects of insecurity and anger in women, both of which fuel feminism and a culture of death.

Read the entire article here.

11 November 2008

Is Obama the Anti-Christ?

I've been getting this question a lot lately: Is Obama the Anti-Christ foretold in the Book of Revelation?

Yes and no. Here's why. . .

The image we have of the figure of the Anti-Christ comes from Hollywood. . .creepy kid with "666" tattooed on his scalp. . .black eyes, psychic powers, talks to wolves, crows, etc. . .kills people who get in the way of his demonic plans for world domination. In more recent times, the Anti-Christ has been portrayed as an international politician with great charm, a brilliant mind, a wildly secular compassion, and a taste for creating Nanny State bureaucracies like the U.N. and the E.U.

Now, without going into the 2,000 year-old history of how Christians have conceived the Anti-Christ from scripture, it is vital that we understand one Big Truth about the idea of the Anti-Christ: his appearance is NOT some future event; that is, the Anti-Christ is not coming "some day." He has come and gone many times and will likely come and go many more.

Why do I say this? Check out this paragraph from the Catechism of the Catholic Church: "The Antichrist's deception already begins to take shape in the world every time the claim is made to realize within history that messianic hope which can only be realized beyond history through the eschatological judgment. The Church has rejected even modified forms of this falsification of the kingdom to come under the name of millenarianism, especially the "intrinsically perverse" political form of a secular messianism"(n.676). I've highlighted the key phrase here: "already begins to take shape in the world every time. . ." Since we are bound to live within history (i.e. we are subject to the passage of time), we experience God's plan of salvation for us as a progression of events--past, present, future. However, what scripture reveals to us is God's plan All At Once, that is, what we have in the Bible is the totality of our salvation history from beginning to end, each event is simultaneously past, present, and future revealed from God's vantage point of eternity.

The Second Coming of Christ has happened, is happening, and will happen. The Book of Revelation is a book of prophecy (future). But it is also a book of history (past) and a contemporary report of the world news (present). It is a mistake for Catholics to take this book to be merely historical, or as merely world news, or as merely prophetic. It must be all three at the same time because the book reveals an eternal (atemporal) plan played out within time. We can read the Book of Revelation for patterns of historical progress in the life of the Church as she lives with the world. Since our relationship with the world is always adversarial, it is fairly easy to say that there will be peaks of open conflict and persecution both of the Church by the world and from within the Church by those who given themselves to the world.

In parapgraph 675, the paragraph immediately preceding the paragraph above, we read:
"Before Christ's second coming the Church must pass through a final trial that will shake the faith of many believers. The persecution that accompanies her pilgrimage on earth will unveil the "mystery of iniquity" in the form of a religious deception offering men an apparent solution to their problems at the price of apostasy from the truth. The supreme religious deception is that of the Antichrist, a pseudo-messianism by which man glorifies himself in place of God and of his Messiah come in the flesh." Everything in this passage has happened before; is happening now; and will happen again. The ancient church was persecuted under the Roman emperors. The church in Africa (Sudan) and Asia (India) is being persecuted right now. And the church will be persecuted again in the future--in the U.S.? Europe? Very likely. Think about the secular messiahs the Church has confronted in history--the Roman emperors were considered gods; Mao and Stalin held power through messiah-like cults of personalty; Hitler persecuted both Jews and Christian, both of God's people under a national messiahism called fascist socialism. There are many others.

Back to Obama. Given everything I have said above, can we consider Obama the Anti-Christ? No. There is no "the Anti-Christ." There have been many Anti-Christs that have given flesh to the demonic desire to replace the Kingdom of God with a secular paradise. There are many now and there will be many more. To the degree that Obama opposes the will of God for His people, cloaks his opposition in religious language and ceremony, and persecutes the Church for her resistance to his secular messianic agenda, then we can say that he is an Anti-Christ.*

But here's the kicker: we are all capable of doing what the Anti-Christ in the Book of Revelation did, is doing, and will do. We do not do so on the scale of an American president or an international organization like the U.N., but we all have found ourselves, find ourselves, and will find ourselves believing and acting "against Christ," i.e. become Anti-Christs. From the White House Obama's secular messiahism is far more effective in undermining the Church than my single sins of omission or even my accumulated sins of commission. But can any of us overestimate the damage done to the U.S. Church by the abuse scandals caused by our priests and bishops? Or the damage done by pro-abortion clergy, religious, and politicans?

So, yes, Obama is an Anti-Christ. And no, he is not The Anti-Christ.

*It is very important for me to note here that I am not comparing Obama to Mao, Stalin, and Hitler. The man is a plain ole Chicago-machine liberal Democrat with great stage presence and rhetorical skills. But to compare him to these monsters is way, way over the top and is likely counterproductive in opposing his policies.

Southern Province Vocations Video

The new vocations video from my province, the Province of St Martin de Porres, USA. . .

You can contact our vocations promoter, Fr. Charlie Latour, OP here.

Also check out the new Dominican blog created by fra. Thomas, OP at Aquinas Institute: always distinguish(ed).

09 November 2008

12 Reasons Why Faithful Citizenship Failed to Persuade

Why did the USCCB document, Faithful Citizenship, fail so miserably in persuading Catholics to vote pro-life this last election?

There are several reasons:

1). The document, like most committee monsters, is unwieldly; it is over-written, too highly nuanced to be effective. The first mention of abortion and euthanasia doesn't occur until paragraph 22 on page 8.

2). The document is loaded with technical theological terminology, e.g. "formal cooperation with evil."

3). The document provides far too many loopholes that could have been effectively closed with ordinary language, an example of an irrelevant loophole for this election: "There may be times when a Catholic who rejects a candidate’s unacceptable position may decide to vote for that candidate for other morally grave reasons. Voting in this way would be permissible only for truly grave moral reasons. . ."(n.35). There was a candidate in this last election who promised to expand abortion rights and another who promised not to. There were no "other morally grave reasons" for voting for the pro-abortion candidate.

4). Pro-abortion clergy and lay catechists took advantage of the above and strongly hinted or outright taught that is morally acceptable to vote for a pro-abortion candidate in this last election in the absence of proportinate good reasons to do so.

5). Despite the best efforts of some bishops to teach clearly that there is no proportionate good reason to vote for a pro-abortion candidate in this last election, pro-abortion clergy and lay catechists seized on the loophole, urging Catholics not to be "one issue voters."

6). Like most Americans, most Catholics are ethical utilitarians at heart; meaning, that they weighed the evil of abortion equally with all the other Church's social justice issues. The document's teaching on this point is lost in the linguistic muddle. By placing other social wrongs along side abortion, the document undercuts it own teaching against the error of "moral equivalence." Does holding racist opinions equal the moral evil of the murder of 48 million children?

7). The document does not adequately teach that without the right to life no other right makes much sense. Aborted babies don't need universal health-care, fair wages, or a clean environment.

8). The bishops tolerated clerical dissent from the document in their dioceses, giving Catholics in the pew the idea that there is division in the upper ranks.

9). There is division in the upper ranks regarding the Church's teaching on voting and the right to life.

10). Generally speaking, documents from the USCCB are presented as official teaching at the diocesan level, implying that if an individual bishop disagrees with the document, Catholics in his diocese are free to ignore his teaching in favor of the USCCB. This is not the case. USCCB documents only have the magisterial weight that individual bishops give them.

11). Though well-intentioned, alternative voting guides from pro-life groups gave Catholics the impression that "right-wing Catholics" were disagreeing with the USCCB. This set up a situation where less faithful intrepretations of the document were posed as authentic by contrast.

12). The document certainly teaches the truth of the faith on life issues; however, it failed to persuade most voting Catholics to vote pro-life because it is too long, too nuanced, too technical, full of loopholes, and easily manipulated by selective quoting, and because of all of these, prone to misinterpretation by pro-abortion ideologues among the clergy and laity.

Solution: let Archbishop Chaput write the voting guide for 2012.

[UPDATE: I've been asked to comment on the recent USCCB decision to remove discussion of abortion politics from the agenda of the bishops' meeting in Washington. I do not think that this is a move by the bishops to avoid the issue. Clearly, a vast majority of our bishops see abortion politics as an area where Catholics have a great deal to contribute. No doubt the discussion will occur in their closed meetings. With the bright lights of the Obama PR machine (i.e., "the media") shining in their eyes, the bishops want to get a few things straightened out before making any public statements. Even the most timid objections to the strong statements put out by some bishops will be used as a reason for dissent by the leftie media and her allies in the Church.]