02 April 2010

What the papal preacher did not preach. . .

The papal preacher did N.O.T. say that the Church's current problems are comparable to the historical persecution of the Jews in terms of severity, duration, or malice.

He quoted a Jewish friend of his who said that anti-Catholic prejudice results from the same sort of stereotyping--tarring the whole group with the sins of a few members of the group--that often leads to anti-Semitic violence.

IOW, he is talking about the underlying mob mentality that frees the dark hatreds of individuals and supplies apparently plausible reasons for violence against the hated group.

He NEVER says that the Pope or the Church is enduring the exactly the same kind of violence that Jews have suffered historically or currently. 

Of course, this won't stop the Professional Victims Groups from seizing on the occasion to shudder in faux indignation and spend the weekend pretending to cringe away from the uber-violent Catholic Church.

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Communion at St. Peter's

A Good Friday first for me. . .I will be distributing communion at St. Peter's Basilica this afternoon!

I usually avoid Vatican liturgies b/c the crowds are enormous and transportation, etc. is a nightmare.

But the opportunity came along, so. . .here we go!

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Politics in the confessional

Q:  Father, I recently went to confession and told my pastor about harboring uncharitable thoughts about a prominent politician.  I told him that these thoughts had become more frequent since Congress passed health care reform.  My pastor spent about five minutes of our time in the confessional trying to convince me that the reforms were good.  It was a political speech not spiritual counsel.  I left feeling manipulated.  Did my pastor abuse the sacrament by taking time to try and change my mind about a political issue?  How do I approach him about my feelings on this?  He is often combative when criticized face-to-face, so I'm reluctant to confront him that way.

A:  Yes, he did abuse the sacrament.  Regardless of what your pastor might think about ObamaCare, using time in the confessional to push an overtly political agenda is tantamount to abuse of the sacrament.  I would say the same thing if your pastor tried to convince you that ObamaCare is a bad thing.  The sacrament of reconciliation is about the confession of sins, repentance, penance, and absolution.  There is no time or place in the Box for being politically harangued by a priest.  

If you are afraid of talking to him face-to-face, I would suggest a hand-written letter telling him how you perceived his behavior in the Box.  Don't accuse or belittle; don't argue or quote canon law; don't cite popes or councils.  A priest who abuses the sacraments for his own agenda will not respond well to anyone quoting authoritative texts.  Just tell him in plain language how his speech made you feel.  If you are up to, offer to meet with him to discuss the matter.  And request in the letter that he acknowledge your concerns in writing.  Make a copy of your letter before sending it.  Why a copy?  If he continues to use the confessional as a political soapbox it might be necessary to contact the bishop.  You need a paper trail.  Don't go to the bishop without contacting your pastor first.  Give him a chance to explain himself.  He might feel awful about the whole thing and apologize.  If you jump straight to the bishop, your pastor might become defensive and angry.  Also, if you have to contact the bishop, keep in mind:  dealing with problems coming out of the confessional is tough b/c of the seal.  Don't expect a dramatic resolution.  If nothing is done at all, find another confessor.

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Coffee Bowl Browsing

Much like they pushed a mythical consensus on global-warming science, the media are now pushing the notion that there is an academic consensus on the constitutionality of the individual mandates in ObamaCare.   There is no such consensus.  And there are plenty of top-notch law professors available to argue publicly that ObamaCare is unconstitutional. . .despite the media's unwillingness to interview them on the subject.

This is a great time for the FCC to die. . .especially with B.O. rubbing his censorious hands and MAWAHAHAHA'ing over the nefarious possibilities available to him by putting control of the internet into the hands of his political appointees.

The renewable energy found in the rainbows unicorns trail about them. . .hilarious video!

Extremist threats of violence, or patriotic dissent?  Well, depends on who's sleeping in the White House.

The lawyers for clerical abuse victims know perfectly well that the Holy Father, as a head of state, enjoys immunity from prosecution in the U.S.  So, why are they trying to bag BXVI as a defendant?  They know that if they try, the Vatican will have to point his His Holiness' immunity, thus making it look as though the Pope has something to hide.

Dorothy Parker's poetic insights on the inconveniences of suicide.

Wouldn't a traffic light be more efficient and less likely to cause blisters?

When vegetable condiments go wild!  Remind me not to visit my dad's garden this summer. . .

A giraffe successfully divides by zero. . .and immediately regrets it.

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01 April 2010

Why did Christ die on a wooden cross?

Love the internet!  I was planning on doing something similar to this, but Taylor Marshall did the footwork for us. . .

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Seven Reasons Why Christ Died on a Wooden Cross

First, Augustine observed that crucifixion is not only painful, it is painful and public. The public nature of Christ's death inspires us to face death heroically.

Second, Augustine observed that since Adam brought death through a tree, it was fitting that the New Adam destroy death by hanging on a tree.

Third, John Chrysostom and Theophylact observed that by being lifted up on the cross, Christ sanctified the air.

Fourth, Athanasius observed that by being lifted up on the cross, Christ shows that He has prepared the ascent into Heaven.

Fifth, Gregory of Nyssa observed that the shape of the cross was fitting for because it extends in the four directions and is therefore universal. Also, Athanasius wrote that the one outstretched arm sanctified the those in the past and the other arm as outstretched to the future. So we have both a spacial and temporal universality signified in the crucifixion.

Sixth, Augustine says the parts of the cross signifies the following:

* Breadth – This pertains to Christ’s hands and thus "good works"
* Length – This pertains to the upright nature of a tree and thus "longanimity".
* Height – This pertains to the top and Christ’s head and “the good hope” of the faithful.
* Base – The base is the root and it is hidden, thus it signifies “grace”.

Seventh, Augustine observes that wood is salutary in the Old Covenant. Wood saved Noah in the Flood. Moses divided the sea with a wooden rod; purified water with wood, and brought forth water with his wooden rod. Also, the Ark of the Covenant was made of wood.

I adapted these seven reasons for the wooden cross of Christ from Saint Thomas Aquinas III q. 46, a. 4.

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Literary parallelisms in the bible are highly instructive.  The Church has long taught that the New Covenant is the fulfillment of the Old Covenant.  It stands to reason then that the biblical texts that reveal the covenants would contain numerous parallelisms for us to use in deepening our understanding of God's Self-revelation.  For example, we are familiar with the parallels drawn between the roles of Eve and Mary in our fall and redemption, respectively; between the wood and purpose of Noah's Ark and the wood and purpose of the Cross; between the blood of the sacrifical lamb in the temple and the blood of the sacrificial Lamb of God; and between the cleansing power of the flood and the cleansing power of baptism.  Such parallels were the stock and trade of Patristic preaching and teaching.

Compared to the often overly scientifically and nit-picking historical-critical method of interpreting scripture, the literary method of the Fathers is obviously superior.  This is not to say that the H-C method is worthless. . .just surprisingly sterile when used to produce a homily.

What are your favorite parallelisms in scripture?

NB.  When you visit Taylor's blog, please note the pic he uses at the top of the page:  Dominican friars at table.  Like I always say, "Never trust a skinny Dominican."  ;-)

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Voting in the U.K. general elections

The Telegraph's Catholic blogger, Damien Thompson, links to a nifty online guide that helps U.K. voters in matching their political positions with the major parties for the upcoming general elections.

I used the guide and discovered that my political views match the U.K. Independence Party 67% of the time and the Conservative Party 36% of the time.  Since I had never heard of the UKIP, I looked them up, read their platform, and concluded that I would indeed vote for the UKIP candidates in my district if I were a subject of Her Majesty and eligible to vote.

Now, I am freely admitting this piece of personal info in near-complete ignorance of the British political landscape.  For all I know, the UKIP may be some sort of horrible fringe movement.  I know that the British Nationalist Party verges on the execrable.  Voting Labour is out of the question and there seems to be no real difference btw Labour and the Liberal Democrats. 

The attraction of the UKIP for me is their strong opposition to the E.U.'s interference in the U.K.'s national sovereignty.  If the UKIP's assertions about the E.U.'s encroachment on the sovereignty of member states is accurate, then European nations are doomed to becoming little more than American-style states under the control of a federal European bureaucracy managed by hard-line, anti-Christian leftists.  It's the Roman Empire all over again without its legendary religious tolerance and local control.  For example, according to the UKIP material, a German gov't minister notes that fully 80% of Germany's laws are enacted in Brussels not Berlin.  He asks the pertinent question:  what's the point of a German parliament?

An anecdote:  back in 2004 an English friar told us at table one night that Brussels had recently decreed that bananas imported into the E.U. must not be curved; IOW, only straightened bananas could be imported.  Why?  Because curved bananas resembled bicycle tires when packaged and this confused customs officials.  The moral of the story?  When you create a bureaucracy to manage a problem, the bureaucracy will eventually begin inventing problems in order to justify its own existence.  Sound familiar?

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Coffee Bowl Browsing

Why do right-wing militia wing-nuts always look like they are products of the shallowest end of the gene pool?

Over-reactionary theological development:  Calvinism vs. Hall Mark Christianity.  Um, may I suggest orthodox Catholicism as a viable alternative?  BTW, I know a lot of Catholic Calvinists. . .unfortunately.

LCWR get their thirty pieces of silver from Planned Parenthood.  Tell us again, sisters, why the Vatican's apostolic visitation and the theological assessment aren't necessary?

Corporate execs are disclosing how much money they are paying out in response to ObamaCare.  This has riled the Dems, so the execs are being sent to the woodshed by the Dem majority.  Can anyone say "intimidation to shut up about the real costs of ScaryCare"?  I knew that you could.

Redneck siege engine using someone's hapless girlfriend as ammo.

I'm not even going to try to explain this pic.  Captions invited.

Texas hangover cure, or an ad for Uncle Festus' Guaranteed Hair Regrow Potion and Scalp Wax.

Yes, there really is such a thing. . .I've seen it at Wal-Mart.

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31 March 2010

A difficult decision. . .(UPDATED)

If you have been reading this blog for the last two years, you know that I have been struggling with how my vocation as a priest is properly expressed in the Dominican tradition.  

Though I am a life-long student and I love preaching. . .it's becoming clearer and clearer to me that my priestly vocation is being smothered as a Dominican.  In a nutshell, I don't have to be a priest in order to be a philosophy professor.  If my future in the Order is to minister as a member of a university faculty, then it will be necessary for me to move away from the Order and seek out a ministry that will allow me to both BE a priest and to DO priestly things.

Therefore, I have decided to seek exclaustration from the Order and return immediately to the U.S. where I will begin looking for a diocese that needs my vocation as a priest.

This has been a difficult two years of discernment.  Please keep me in your prayers!

UPDATE:  lots of email and comments on this post!  There seems to be some confusion about the nature of exclaustration.  I would encourage you to click on the link above for an explanation.

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Walking back from class. . .

Adventures to and from the Piazza Navona. . .

Stopped by a German couple looking for the Termini.  They anxiously refused to ride the bus.  Thinking about the complex, nearly chaotic layout of Roman streets, and despairing for my sanity and theirs in trying to explain to them how to get to the Termini, I settled on the time-honored Roman method of giving directions:  I pointed straight ahead with great authority and smiled real big.  

A young woman approached me speaking Italian so fast my face got windburned.  She was decked out in the latest teen fashions--jeans, ski jacket, expensive shades, etc.  I asked her if she spoke English.  She glared at me menacingly and spoke one word:  "Money."  I barked a laugh and walked off.  

A middle-aged man approached me, speaking Italian.  He asked if I lived at the Angelicum.  I said yes.  Then he started asking me rapid-fire questions about the Order, informing me that he was wanting to join an American province.  I asked me if he spoke English.  He smiled and switched to a heavily accented Mexican-English.  Turns out that he is a philosophy professor in Mexico City and wants to join the Southern Province!  We exchanged info and parted friends.

So, wearing the habit on the streets of Rome can have its pluses and minuses. 

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Very sad that my French classes are over. . .(yea right)

Dancing around my pig sty and singing:
French is done! 

French is done!  

French is done! 

OK.  Not very original.  But what it lacks in creativity, it makes up for in enthusiasm.  


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Coffee Bowl Browsing (Late Morning Edition)

I worked at McDonald's for a couple of summers when I was in high school.  We never had anything like this happen to us.  People seem to be losing their minds!

Predictable:  Old Media play up fake violence against Dems; ignore the only arrest for a real threat of violence--against a GOP Congressman.

Bishop preaches:  stand up to the odious NYT!

The Old Media continue to lose viewers:  this explains why they continue to reprint/rebroadcast W.H. and DNC talking points and call it news. . .the only people watching/reading the ones who wrote the talking points!

A complete list of B.O.'s promises and their expiration dates

Race-hustler, Al Sharpton, told to put up or shut up about the Tea Partiers shouting the n-word at the Congressional Black Caucus.  

On the delusions of an Episcopal dinosaur:  John Shelby Spong gets everything wrong.

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Resend your questions. . .

Today is the LAST DAY of French!!!  Well, it's the last day of French classes.  I will have to continue on my own.

Looking over my email/comments I despair for the possibility of catching up.

So, since I will be freed from any formal academic obligations (i.e., classes), this is the time to just start over fresh.

Send them on! 

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30 March 2010

Cancel your NCReporter subscription!

Fr. Z. asks the hard-hitting question for Holy Week:  is it time to cancel your NCReporter subscription?

The answer is:  YES!

The NCR (or, as we called it in my studium days, "the Nasty Critical Rag") is nothing more than a mouthpiece for the dying, dissenting, dinosaur ecclesial left.  The only good thing about the NCR is John Allen.  He is very fair when reporting on Church issues, pulling no punches when punches are required, but at the same time he unfailing keeps his distance from poisonous dissenting ideology.  

My greatest concern is for parishes that keep this trash in the back of the church for parishioners to read.  People who spend most of the time working for the Church know how to read the NCR and balance its slanted content with other sources.  But normal, average Catholics don't have the time or probably even the inclination to seek out balancing sources.  They see "Catholic" in the title and think this rag is an official, church-sponsored publication. 

Fr. Z. notes that the wheezing crackpots on the editorial board are using the current scandals to push for all their favorite reforms a la 1972.  There is nothing in the structure of the Church, its teachings, its liturgical practices, or its centuries-old spirituality that condones child sexual abuse.  These horrific incidents of abuse happened precisely because the teachings of the Church were not followed.  

Ordaining women, making celibacy optional, blahblahblah will do absolutely nothing to guarantee that abuse will never happen again.  Let's look at the U.S. public school system.  Lots of married men and women, lots and lots of sexual abuse.  The Protestants?  Lots of ordained married women, lots of abuse.  The Anglicans?  Lots of ordained married men and women, lots of abuse.  Need I go on?  

If you have a subscription to the NCR, cancel it.  For the good of the Church, just cancel it.

Rant over.

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Thought Experiment: new world, new rules*

The year is 2187.  Though global warming proved to be a cruel hoax back in the early 21st century, the world is soon to be destroyed.  Scientists have detected a string of asteroids headed straight for our solar system.  There is nothing we can do but wait for the end.  

A year before the asteroids are predicted to hit the earth, the world's governments are unexpectedly contacted by an advanced alien race that offers us a glimmer of hope:  human resettlement on a earth-like planet.  But there's a catch.  Their technology, though far beyond anything we could dream, is limited.  They can transport only 1,000 people to this new planet. 

The mode of transportation is something akin to the transporter device used in the old Star Trek  TV series.  Matter is converted to energy, stored as data, and then reassembled as matter in another place.  This mode of transportation has an unnerving, unavoidable side-effect.  The people who go into the device come out radically changed.  Every characteristic possessed by an individual is altered--physical appearance, mental capacity, personality traits, propensity to disease, skill sets; even basic beliefs, prejudices, habits, inclinations, and quirks.  

The aliens assure us that since the device uses the 1,000 people stored as a template for reassembly, that no one will be rematerialized as anything but basically human, including every potential for good and evil.  However, every other indicator of sex, race, skin color, personality-type, etc. will be changed.  No one will arrive on the new planet with the same characteristics that he or she left with.  

A computer-generated program selects 1,000 people that best represents the human race.  You are one of these people.  Once selected, all 1,000 of you gather on the alien vessel for briefing on the new world.  The aliens tell you that the trip to the new earth will take about two years.  During that time, they suggest that the group begin thinking and planning for your lives once transported to the surface.

Your first task:  establish the basic political and social structure of your world.  Given that no one in the group will arrive on the planet as the same person who left Earth, what will be the fundamental socio-political principles that guide the development of this new civilization?

To assist the group, the aliens lay down a few inviolable rules:

1).  All 1,000 members of the group must remain together in the new settlement.  There can be no "colonies" of like-minded individuals splitting off from the main group until all of the original settlers have died.

2).  Until all 1,000 settlers have died, the aliens will ensure that the new constitution of the settlement is enforced.  They will become involved only in the most fundamental decisions of the settlement.

3).  Once all the original settlers have died, the aliens will withdraw and allow the settlement to continue on unimpeded.

So, the question is:  what will be the fundamental socio-political principles that guide the development of this new civilization?

*adapted from John Rawls' "veil of ignorance" thought-experiment

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29 March 2010

BXVI & the "secret" of the 2001 letter on abuse

John Allen, reporter and blogger for the execrable NCReporter, clarifies the 2001 letter, De delictis gravioribus,  sent by then-Cardinal Ratzinger to the Church's bishops:

That letter indicates that certain grave crimes, including the sexual abuse of a minor, are to be referred to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and that they are "subject to the pontifical secret." The Vatican insists, however, that this secrecy applied only to the church's internal disciplinary procedures, and was not intended to prevent anyone from also reporting these cases to the police or other civil authorities. Technically they're correct, since nowhere in the 2001 letter is there any prohibition on reporting sex abuse to police or civil prosecutors.

In reality, few bishops needed a legal edict from Rome ordering them not to talk publicly about sexual abuse. That was simply the culture of the church at the time, which makes the hunt for a "smoking gun" something of a red herring right out of the gate. Fixing a culture -- one in which the Vatican, to be sure, was as complicit as anyone else, but one which was widespread and deeply rooted well beyond Rome -- is never as simple as abrogating one law and issuing another.

That aside, here's the key point about Ratzinger's 2001 letter: Far from being seen as part of the problem, at the time it was widely hailed as a watershed moment towards a solution. It marked recognition in Rome, really for the first time, of how serious the problem of sex abuse really is, and it committed the Vatican to getting directly involved. Prior to that 2001 motu proprio and Ratzinger's letter, it wasn't clear that anyone in Rome acknowledged responsibility for managing the crisis; from that moment forward, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith would play the lead role.

Keep these facts handy when your fav anti-Catholic uncle/neighbor/co-worker starts spouting off about BXVI coddling clerical child molesters.

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Abuse & Scandal: what went wrong?

I've been getting a lot of email about the brewing global sex abuse scandal, asking me to explain "what went wrong."  Catholics are justifiably angry, demoralized, and worried.  There seems to be no end to the revelations of perversion and cover-up.  

We search for explanations b/c we believe that knowing what happened will allow us to fix things and ensure that none of this will happen again.  Unfortunately, human history throws a cold bucket of water on these sputtering embers of hope.  Fortunately, however, salvation history fans the flames into a holocaust. 

While the bigots in the media scurry around looking for damning memos and faux-victims eager for a payday from the Church, Catholics must keep two essential truths in mind:  1) we are all sinners and 2) the war against evil has already been won.  We have allowed the lawyers, the therapists, the talking-heads, and the ecclesial bureaucracies to distract us with statistical reports, financial reports, psychological explanations, and legal wrangling.  Yes, all of these go into the mix of figuring out how we need to respond.  But none of them address the core issue of the fallenness of human nature and the offer of redemption in Christ.

People sin.  Always have, always will.  Married clergy, women priests, new policies and procedures, legal victories or losses, popularly elected bishops--none of these will change the hard, cold fact that people behave in ways that hurt other people.  Despite the goodness, truth, and beauty we all participate in as the redeemed children of a loving God, we still manage to allow our disordered passions to rule our divinely gifted reason.  We still surrender to our appetites even when doing so is clearly the worst possible thing we could do.  We still allow ourselves to forget the evil that results from disobedience and despair. 

The fallenness of human nature explains the abuse and scandals. . .it does not excuse them.  Nothing excuses them.  If priests followed the teachings of the Church faithfully, there would be no abuse to report.  If bishops governed their dioceses according to the teachings of the apostles, there would be no cover-ups.  We can point fingers at the repressive sexual formation that dominated the seminaries in the '40's and '50's; the sexual/doctrinal permissiveness that followed Vatican Two in the '60's and '70's; the rise of the so-called "Pink Palaces" and the CEO-model of episcopal administration in the '80's; and the Old Boys' Club mentality of the Curia throughout the Church's history.  All of these contributed to this crisis.  But none more than old-fashioned sin.

The decline in vocations post-VC2 made bishops reluctant to dismiss much-needed priests.  Academic and psychological admission standards were changed to allow otherwise questionable candidates into the seminaries.  Ideology often kept men with no allegiance to the prevailing feminist agenda out of seminary.  Add to this the constant assault on orthodox moral theology from within the Church and the rapidly eroding sexual ethics of society in general, and the abuse became almost inevitable.  But none of these caused the abuse or the cover-ups. 

The cover-ups seem even more insidious than the incidents of abuse themselves.  Here we had otherwise faithful bishops and priests aiding and abetting the molestation of children and teens by allowing the molesters to move from assignment to assignment.  We might be willing to think that a child-molester is mentally ill, but what are we supposed to think about a psychologically healthy bishop who knows about this man's abuse and continues to allow him to function as a priest?  Again, all kinds of reasons for a cover-up come to mind.  But no excuses.  Bishops had to come to a point where they are more afraid of legal prosecution than they are of religious scandal.  We reached that point in 2002 with the "Dallas Charter."  Now, it seems, they run to process, procedure, and "safe-environment" training certification in order to address what is essentially a matter of sin and redemption. 

All of this is bad news, no doubt about it.  The Good News, however, is clear:  the war against evil has already been won.  This week, the Church celebrates the Passion of the Lord, climaxing on Easter Sunday with his glorious resurrection from the tomb.  Read the reports of abuse and scandal.  Pray first and foremost for the victims of these crimes.  Pray for the men and women who committed them.  Pray for the men and women who helped to cover them up.  Pray for the media vultures who believe that they are circling the wounded, dying body of the Church, waiting for their favorite ideological opponent to croak.  And as you pray, remember. . .every Passion Week, every week of suffering, ridicule, betrayal, every week comes to an end with the Resurrection!

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