20 August 2009

Ciao! (for now...)

Dear HancAquam Readers,

I am off for another adventure. . .the squirrels of Mississippi await my arrival.

Then off to Houston before returning to Rome for another exciting year of gelato, the Italian postal service, Catholic tourism, and heavy reading/writing.

Blogging will resume around Sept 4th.

While in Houston (Sept 3-Oct 3) I will be available for talks/retreats. . .frankly, any sort of work I can do to raise some $$$ for my thin student budget!

I've given talks/retreats on:

Faith and Science
Dominican Spirituality
Charity and Truth
Documents of Vatican Two
Pope Benedict's Encyclicals
Basic Catholic Moral Theology
Suffering and Death for Christians
Vocation Discernment
The Mass: Line by Line
Basics of Confession
Theology of Campus Ministry. . .

If you have a special interest, just let me know and maybe we can work something out!

God bless, Fr. Philip

Oh! Don't forget to get a copy of my prayer book, Treasures Old & New: Traditional Prayers for Today's Catholics, vol 1. The publisher wrote to me yesterday and reported that they have already have 680 pre-publications orders! It's not even in the bookstores yet.

Oh, oh! And visit the WISH LIST. . .of course!

19 August 2009

Catholics and health-care reform

I'm asked rather frequently these days how faithful Catholics should be thinking about health-care reform. We seem to be in a tight bind between the Catholic imperative to care for others and the equally Catholic imperative to respect individual conscience and freedom.

Here's the very basic question I ask when evaluating any reform of the health-care system: what are the moral principles that stand under the proposed system and drive its inevitably tough choices?

Given the answer to this question, I ask another: what system of laws, regulations, incentives, etc. will be used to implement these moral principles?

In the current debate it seems to me that the proposals under review are based on a highly objectionable utilitarianism; that is, the reforms proposed rely on a variety of cost-benefit analyses that require those making medical decisions to commodify human life. If those making the decisions are not the ones who will suffer the consequences of the decisions made, then the utilitarianism in use becomes nothing short of immoral.

If, as a 95 year old Dominican friar, I decide to forego cancer treatment that will cost my province $150,000, that's my right as a person. However, having this decision made by a government accountant is simply wrong. I may use cost-benefit analysis to determine whether or not I will receive medical treatment. The government cannot. If the argument is made that the government will be paying for the treatment, therefore the government gets to decide on the treatment's value for my life, then I would retort: get the government out of the health-care business!

My fundamental worry is this: I simply do not trust the government to do the right thing, meaning I do think that the government is the proper body for deciding on the relative value of medical treatments. In order to be fair, such decisions would have to be made on objective criteria. We can't have the government deciding life and death issues based on circumstance and intention. This breeds injustice and inequality. Given this, it falls to bureaucrats to establish objective guidelines for decision-making, guidelines that ignore everything that makes me a person created in the image and likeness of God by placing a monetary value on my life. I am reduced to the value of my life expectancy and weighed against monetary costs of extending my life beyond a pre-determined point.

At some point between now (at 45 years old) and my expected age for death, I reach a tipping-point and become an potentially expensive liability to the public treasury. And the only thing that seems to matter is my age. Wholly ignored as irrevelant in the decision-making process is my potential to create something of value after a certain age; and worst of all, my inherent value as a person created by God to flourish is never even considered. Under a utilitarian cost-benefit analysis this inherent worth has no monetary value whatsoever.

So, do the proposals currently under debate respect the inherent worth of the individual person created and sustained by a loving God? Are the proposed medical decision-making processes grounded in the notion that patients have the freedom of conscience inherent to being persons? Will these processes reduce the person to a monetary value or treat persons as inherently valuable?

I don't think so.

Mocking the Obama-icon

This vid drew my attention as a literary theorist.

One staple of literary criticism is the process of digging out the symbols, signs, icons, and idols of an author/text and subjecting them to "a reading." In my time in grad school, the favored kinds of readings to do were Marxist, feminist, and deconstructive--all of these offered (and still do) perfectly legit methods of getting at an interpretation of a text. No one method is fool-proof or absolute (the $5 academic word is "totalizing"). We were encouraged and sometimes even required to mix it up a bit and produce Marxist-feminist, or feminist-deconstructive, etc. readings that revealed all sorts of literary goodness in the text, or rather, revealed the reader's meta-narrative assumptions about how literary texts are produced and consumed (ahem).

Anyway, this vid does an excellent job of deconstructing the (in)famous Obama-icon we see popping up on all sorts of government propaganda. The critic here makes a simple point: at no other time in American history have we seen a President of the U.S. "branded" in the way that Obama is being branded. He notes that the Obama-icon has replaced the presidential seal in many venues and has even been displayed overlaid on the presidential seal to suggest the dissolution of the presidency and the ascendenacy of The One.

This would be scary if Americans were not so marketing-savvy. We get it. Political icons only work if they manage to sublimate themselves as signs; that is, if they become part of the semiotic landscape, disappearing so as to stand up for something more substantial. Political icons as brand labels fail precisely because they mark out an impermanent personality, a changeable, compromising agenda, and the political ambitions of a narcissist.

The American flag, the presidential seal, the blind-folded statue of justice, "We the People. . ." all stand for enduring principles and ideals. The Obama-icon stands for nothing more than the political ambitions of a Chicago bureaucrat who happens to occupy the White House for a time. Obama is not America. Neither was Bush, Clinton, Bush I, Reagan, Carter, or any of the others. All of these men served a larger agenda, a bigger principle. The Obama-icon and its attached ideology makes one wonder if The One serves the same ideals.

The critic in this vid correctly predicts that the Obama-icon will backfire on The One. Perpetual campaign mode is no way to run a country. Already the "O" icon is being lampooned. And the one thing a serious narcissist* cannot tolerate is ridicule.

*There's nothing special about Obama's narcissism. Anyone entering politics has to be something of a narcissist.

The red-herrings of the LCWR

Meeting recently in New Orleans, the LCWR issued a statement on the upcoming theological assessment by the CDF. Among the predictable "pearl clutching" exclamations of indignation are two charges against the Vatican's probe that are meant to serve as red herrings. Both these charges are made under the general charge of "lack of transparency":

1). Why can't we see the report itself?

2). Who's paying for this investigation?

The first charge sets up an ominous specter of secretive Vatican-doings. You can almost hear the dark, foreboding music in the background as the sisters furrow their collective brow. The second charge plants the idea that the investigation is being bankrolled by some nefarious right-wing group, implying that the investigation would not be taking place if this group had not paid the Vatican to do it.

Why are these charges red-herrings? How do they attempt to distract readers? The LCWR is either teaching with the Catholic Church, or it isn't. They are either leading their associated nuns and sisters in the apostolic faith, or they aren't. The investigation is set to determine whether or not these women religious--vowed to serve the Church--are, in fact, serving the Church honestly or using their vast resources and influence to undermine the Catholic faith. Having access to the reports will not change nearly forty-years of public statements supporting women's ordination, same-sex marriage, feminist political ideology, etc. Knowing who (if anyone) is paying for the investigation will not change these public statements either. Basically, these charges by the LCWR are analogous to a reckless driver charging the police officer who stops him with reckless driving himself. How else did you catch me, Officer? You must have been speeding too! The officer's speeding in no way mitigates the recklessness of the indignate driver.

Here's what the LCWR is really afraid of:

From the Instrumentum Laboris (this is not the CDF document but the working instrument for the assessment of the quality of life for the sisters, a separate investigation: "If any sister wishes to express her opinion about some aspect of her religious institute, she may do so freely and briefly, in writing and with signature, specifically identifying her institute by title and location. In order to respect each sister’s freedom of conscience, any sister may send her written comments directly and confidentially to Mother Mary Clare Millea at the Apostolic Visitation Office (PO Box 4328, Hamden, CT, 06514); or by fax: (203-287-5467) by November 1, 2009."

Why is this scary? The LCWR knows what many of us know about the "sisters in the convents." They do not support the neo-pagan/eco-feminist agenda of their leadership conference, but often find themselves intimidated into silence. By allowing individual sisters to write to Mother Clare (the lead investigator for this assessment), the Vatican is encouraging sisters to express themselves outside the tightly controlled, ideologically pure agenda of the LCWR. In other words, this move undermines the power of the LCWR to manage the message. The last thing the leadership of any self-proclaimed revolutionary movement wants is public criticism from those they claim to represent. How often do "people's revolutions" end up in the hands of elitist demagogues?

My own experience with nuns and sisters with regard to both assessments is telling. I've yet to run across a "sister in the convent" who understands the reasons for these assessments. When I describe the stated reasons, they are often shocked and saddened to hear what the LCWR has been spewing against the Church in their name. All they hear about the assessments comes from the LCWR.

It it vitally important for Catholics to understand that the CDF's theological assessement of the LCWR is NOT an investigation into the theological opinions of individual sisters or congregations. The leadership conference itself is being assessed; that is, the focus of the assessement is on the public statements of conference speakers, conference resolutions, and projects funded by the conference to determine whether or not these adhere to basic Church teaching. In its forty-year history, the LCWR has publicly supported women's ordination; overturning the Church's teaching on same-sex morality; and seriously questioned the unique and final role of Christ in salvation history (i.e., Christ may not be the only way to God, leading some to hold that other religions can lead to salvation on their own terms). These three areas of dissent have been marked for special attention by the CDF.

This bears repeating: any negative conclusion made by the CDF with regard to its investigation accures to the LCWR itself. . .NOT to individual sisters or congregations; meaning, if the CDF concludes that the LCWR has been deficient in teaching the Catholic faith, this should not be understood as a condemnation of any one sister or congregation. Investigations into the work of individual theologians is an entirely different process that sometimes takes up to ten years or more.

I am being so adamant about this distinction b/c I fear that faithful Catholics may conclude that a negative evaluation of the LCWR by the CDF means that all (or even most) American religious women are involved in dissident activity. Nothing could be further from the truth. I am confident that the overwhelming majority of our sisters are doing exactly what they vowed to do: serve the Church. The "non serviam" that the LCWR often proclaims to the Church should not be extended to most sisters.

Please offer prayers and fasts for the LCWR, the CDF, Mother Clare, and especially for the innocent sisters and nuns who are being subjected to this investigation through no fault of their own. Also, encourage individual sisters to write to Mother Clare and express themselves freely.

H/T: Ignatius Insight

18 August 2009

Sample pages of my prayer book


Liguori Publications has sample pages of my prayer book up for view.

Go here and then buy one!

By the way, all royalties from the sell of this book go to my province.

(Please link to the sample pages if you have a blog)

The joker behind the Joker

You really gotta love how politics produces the best ironies in the world!

Remember that Obama-Joker poster that popped up in L.A. with "socialism" as a caption?

Remember how the NYT, CNN, WaPo, LAT, and just about every other Old Media parrot machine assured us that whoever created the poster was obviously an angry, white, Republican racist?

Remember how the above mentioned parrots squawked about how denying the blatant racism of the poster is itself a form of racism?

Remember how you reacted when you discovered that the poster's creator is a left-liberal Palestinian-American Democrat?

I do! I laughed. Hard.

17 August 2009

Caffeine Quotes

"Liberalism that is not anchored in natural law, that has no framework of values by which to identify the true and the good -- a liberalism at the mercy of relativism -- is bound to become illiberal." And illiberality always serves those with the most money and guns.


Speaking of illiberal irrationality. . . "If you kill an unborn child, the legal response depends upon the mother's perspective. If she wanted to bear the child, then you're a killer, liable to criminal prosecution. If she didn't want to bear the child, and you're properly licensed to do the killing, then you're engaged in a legitimate form of commerce, and deserve proper payment."


A chilling wind blows from the north. . . "As President Obama and his Democrat-controlled Congress try to force healthcare reform on an American population largely pleased with the current system, our neighbors to the north are actually considering improving their structure by -- wait for it!!! -- welcoming additional competition from private insurers."


Compassion in the service of a lie is not compassionate: "To defend the truth, to articulate it with humility and conviction, and to bear witness to it in life are therefore exacting and indispensable forms of charity. Charity, in fact, 'rejoices in the truth' (1 Cor 13:6)." (Pope Benedict XVI)


"It's 'debate' now, not 'conversation,' because the wrong people are doing the talking. The real conversation is what those people who aren't talking would say." In the Church, progressives call conversation "dialogue." This is code for "keep them talking while we make the changes we want to make so that when we're done we can claim that our unwarranted changes are now the status quo." Cf. the Episcopal Church, Spirits of VC2, ad nau.


"For whatever reason, the Obama administration has acted as if those hagiographical comparisons to FDR were apt. It let its liberal allies from the coasts drive the agenda and write the key bills, and it's played straw man semantic games to marginalize the opposition [. . .] write bills that excite the left, infuriate the right, and scare the center; insist on speedy passage through the Congress; and use budget reconciliation to ram it through in case the expected super majority did not emerge. This might have flown during FDR's 100 Days. But this is not 1933 and Barack Obama is no Franklin Roosevelt." Hey, Rahm! Where'd you put my mandate?!


"'We believe that there are important differences among the college majors in world views and overall philosophies of life....,' they write. '[O]ur results suggest that postmodernism, rather than science, is the bĂȘte noir -- the strongest antagonist -- of religiosity.'" Told ya.

Young Catholics are really Protestants

NCReporter has an article up on a recent survey of younger Catholics and their attitudes about the Church. It's a sad story.

Here's the saddest part:

While a "sizeable minority" of young Catholics, estimated at about 20 percent, are deeply religious, attending Mass and confession regularly and thinking of themselves as "orthodox," most are less rigid in their observance ["rigid" is NCR-speak for what the Church calls "faithful"]. "As long as they believe in God, Jesus' Incarnation and Resurrection, and Mary as the Mother of God and as long as they do whatever they can to love their neighbor, they do not feel obliged to attend Mass every week, go to Confession every year or even marry in the church," according to American Catholics.

So, in other words, a majority of young Catholics in this survey have identified themselves as Protestants. . .with a little Marian stuff thrown in for flavor. Following the Protestant pattern of mimicking the zeitgeist of the dominant culture, these folks also have a decidedly consumerist philosophy about where they attend Mass (when they do) and what they choose to believe (if anything).

Since the whole goal of the "Spirit of Vatican Two" cadre is the Americanization and Protestantization of the Roman Catholic Church, the NCR crew is crowing about this. Lots of work to to. . .lots of work!

Of Mice and Friars. . .

I wrote to a friend recently, "So goes the plans of mice and friars. . ."

Sometimes the itinerant life of a friar is exciting. Lots of travel (naturally), new places and faces, new challenges.

And sometimes all that excitement, travel, etc. is just headache-worthy.

My fall plans have changed a bit. I will be leaving Irving this Thursday to drive to MS for a visit with the parents. Then I am off to live in Houston until time to return to Rome on October 3rd.

Why the delay in returning to the Eternal City? Along with my thesis director and the dean, I've decided to move my comps and thesis defense to Jan 2010. I'm not so worried about completing the thesis or passing the comps. It's the French translation exam that's worrying me. If I failed the exam, I wouldn't graduate in time to teach this fall. This would leave the department a prof short and the class I was scheduled to teach untaught. Since the undergrad program is based on a progression of courses, the spring courses based on this untaught fall course would be hampered. The students would be left without a key step in their program.

So, I'll finish in Jan 2010 and start up my Roman teaching career then!

P.S. The shipping address for the WISH LIST has been changed to reflect this movement of the Spirit! And recently updated. . . :-)

16 August 2009

Moving around at Mass

Every time I teach Western Theological Tradition at U.D., I am newly impressed with the Catholic tradition of sacramental theology. Where else can you find a solid understanding of how rational creatures can worship their Creator without becoming either materialist-pagans or Platonic spiritualists?

Most Catholics intuitively "get" the use of material things in worship--bread, wine, candles, incense, color, music, etc. What is often not so well understood is the use of gesture and movement--sign of the cross, standing/kneeling, processing, etc.

We've all heard the jokes about "Catholic calisthenics." Up, down, kneel, sit, stand, cross, up, down. Why do we spend so much time moving around? On a recent visit to my parents' community church, I was struck by the fact that we stood at the beginning to sing a hymn and then sat for the rest of the service. The only movement was reaching for the hymnal. They passed a communion tray and a collection plate; other than this simple, utilitarian movement, we sat right where we were for the whole hour. Do I need to contrast this with the typical Catholic Mass? I don't think so.

Why do we move around so much? There are lots of good liturgical reasons for doing so. And there are lots of anthropological reasons as well. But I think the most important reasons are deeply personal--not "personal" as in "me and mine" but personal as in "for the person."

Each of us is a Body/Soul together in an intimate relationship that we call personhood--the state of being a person, whole and entire, created in the image and likeness of God. For the Christian, the goal in this life is to be justified before God through the saving merits of Christ's sacrificial death and then grow in holiness by doing His work with the help of His grace. We are justified by faith and sanctified in works. Both our initial justification and our subsequent sanctification happens because we receive the graces He offers to us.

So, how do we receive grace? Typically, we think of "receiving grace" as little more than having grace given to us. But this only part of the story. God can give us grace all day long. We never have to receive it. His grace is not truly graceful until we take it in as a gift.; that is, His grace only becomes effective for us when we say yes to Him. If we understand grace to be a spiritual energy boost, then we may find ourselves verging toward the Platonic side of the faith and coming to believe that we are only valuable as persons in so far as we are souls. This threatens to ignore the body. When we ignore the body's job in perfecting us as persons, we ignore a basic tenet of the faith, namely, our responsibility to be living signs of Christ for others.

Moving around during the Mass reminds us that we are embodied souls seduced by a loving God to return to Him. The journey of return (the reditus) is graced by God and made by each of us as whole persons. . .not merely as souls on a trip to heaven or as bodies working toward earthly perfection. Liturgical gesture, posture, movement is meant to keep us "in the body" even as we soak up the soulful benefits of the Eucharist.

I've argued in class that our current secular obsession with gym bodies, health food, vitamins, etc. is a postmodern form of the Albigensian heresy St Dominic fought against. While the Albigensians held that the body is evil and the soul good, postmodern Albigensians reverse this and hold that only the body matters. If the soul comes into play at all, it is relegated to a subordinate role as a kind of "peace of mind" or "inner relaxation." What's important is that I feel good; meaning, my body is healthy as an organic machine. Though physical health is vital to the person, spiritual health is not achieved through diet and exercise. Spiritual health requires recognizing and striving for a transcendent purpose, a goal well-beyond the impermanent things of the material world.

Ideally, for Christians, we do not seek a balance of body and soul. We seek a total intergration in the holy person. "Balance" implies a shared purpose, a separate but equal goal of each half of Me. Not so. During the Mass, we pray silently while kneeling. We process up for communion while singing. The priest prays with hands raised; he bows during his private prayer; he blesses with words and the sign of the cross. Each physical act is done with spiritual intent, purpose. There are no "halves" to unite. No parts to bring together.

Imagine for a moment a Mass where there is no gesture. No movement. Everyone remains absolutely still and the Mass is read out loud. Or. . .imagine a Mass with no words, only gesture and movement. What would we think upon exiting the Church after Masses like these? I imagine we would think that we not been to Mass at all, that we have been sorely cheated of what we need as persons to grow in holiness!