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Archive for the 'Church' Category

You need to know what you believe

Posted: Monday, June 6, 2011 (5:35 am), by John W Gillis


Quote of the Day for Monday, June 6th, 2011:

Pope Benedict XVI, from the forward to Youcat, the new Youth Catechism of the Catholic Church published last year, and released recently in English by Ignatius Press:

You need to know what you believe… Yes, you need to be more deeply rooted in the faith than the generation of your parents so that you can engage the challenges and temptations of this time with strength and determination. You need God’s help if your faith is not going to dry up like a dewdrop in the sun, if you want to resist the blandishments of consumerism, if your love is not to drown in pornography, if you are not going to betray the weak and leave the vulnerable helpless.

Amen. I might have preferred a book that utilized a few more pages to make sections a bit easier to find from the TOC, but this is an important work – a long time coming – that needs to find it’s way into the hands of young people anxious to understand the great questions of human existence, and God’s love for us all.

The unique depravity of willfully murdering your own flesh and blood for the sake of a hassle-free orgasm

Posted: Friday, April 15, 2011 (10:50 pm), by John W Gillis


Quote of the Day for Friday, April 15th, 2011:

Edward Feser, blogging recently on the perceived phenomenon of what he calls the “temporizing bishop,” operating in an ecclesial milieu afraid to be seen as “reactionary” in the eyes of the modern, liberal establishment:

Homosexuality and abortion he cannot keep silent about, because they are matters of current political controversy.  Regarding homosexuality, then, he will issue a vague statement to the effect that the Church believes that we are all called to honor the Creator’s plan for sex and marriage.  If he can’t avoid doing so, he will acknowledge that this entails that homosexual activity is immoral; but he will also, and almost before he has finished uttering it, proceed to bury this acknowledgment under a mountain of verbiage about the respect, sensitivity, compassion, and understanding owed homosexual persons, about the evils of discrimination, etc.  Regarding abortion, the temporizing bishop will speak vaguely of “promoting a culture of life” and emphasize the compassion owed women who find themselves “in difficult circumstances” – rather than, say, calling attention to the unique depravity of willfully murdering your own flesh and blood for the sake of a hassle-free orgasm.

Well, it would be hard to find a more incisive description of the abortion campaign, no?

The only treasure that the Church really has to offer

Posted: Tuesday, January 4, 2011 (10:19 pm), by John W Gillis


Quote of the Day for Tuesday, January 4th. 2011:

Rev. Thomas G. Guarino, of Seton Hall University, in an article at FirstThings.com entitled The Priesthood and Justice, reflecting on the U.S. bishops’ handling of priests accused of sexual misconduct, in the wake of the dismissal from the priesthood of a 73 year-old monsignor in the Archdiocese of New York at the end of last year:

Various actions taken against accused priests suggest that current policies are straining the theology of the priesthood. This may have the short-term advantage of preventing litigants from storming the Church door. It may keep the media at bay for the moment—a media that, in any case, will always find the Church a stumbling block because of her insistence on the incomparable truth she bears. But such actions are also having the disastrous effect of eroding Catholic doctrine, the only treasure that the Church really has to offer.

This might be an unpopular stance, but it is one that needs to be taken. I know that I was rather stunned when the so called “Dallas Charter” was published in 2002, with the bishops adopting a zero-tolerance policy. I had considered draconian zero-tolerance stands – in general – to be the work of small minds seeking cheap political points in easy answers, and could hardly believe that the USCCB was falling into that trap. I understand its appeal, but as Guarino points out in this short article, it is thoroughly contrary to a Gospel ethic, and I was comforted at the time to know that such intellectual giants of the Catholic world as Richard John Neuhaus and Avery Cardinal Dulles shared the deep unease of this poor sinner.

Nonetheless, the policy has stood for almost a decade, and the treatment of offending priests continues to serve as a lightning rod issue for all kinds of anger – not much of it rational – while the Church finds itself without a teaching voice in the matter on account of its own indulgence in easy answers. It’s as if Docetism, suppressed in so ugly a manner, is finally wreaking its revenge in damaging the Church’s theology of the priesthood.

All the while, the masses fulminate with rage against the Church and those priests caught rightly or wrongly in the crosshairs, every time another old story surfaces. Not all those who fulminate hate the Church, but many of them do, and I am amazed at the consistency with which they demand the dismissal of the accused from the priesthood – “defrocking” seeming to be the almost universal term of choice in the English-speaking world, with its fricative and plosive combination ostensibly serving some cathartic end. Yet, they largely have no clue what any of it means!

Never mind that from a practical perspective, letting obviously sick and unsupervised men loose on society  by washing its hands of them is about the most irresponsible thing the Church can do – the Church is probably the best-equipped institution on the world for finding a safe and constructive place for them to live out their lives. More importantly, a Church that is ready to throw its own to the curb seems to me to have lost, in some important manner, its own sense of its identity as the sacrament of Christ in the world. And then there’s the whole matter of what Holy Orders means in the first place…

Reconciling the World

Posted: Tuesday, November 30, 2010 (9:53 pm), by John W Gillis


Quote of the Day for Tuesday, Nov. 30:

Hans Urs von Balthasar, from “The Sacrament of the Brother,” in The God Question & Modern Man, 1958:

The opposition between what is profane and what is sacred is indeed fully justified in its place, else there could be no movement. Yet in this openness and this reciprocally flowing movement the opposition is transcended by the unity of him in whom and for whom all things have been created, and who has therefore been charged by the Father to bring them home.

Nevertheless, a man will find God in all worldly things and especially in his brother who becomes his neighbor only if he is willing to seek and find God also in himself, in the sanctuary of prayer and the Word and Sacrament of the Church, and the Church has not so much to make propaganda in the world, but above all to pray and to remain in charity.

I’ve been reading mostly von Balthasar and de Lubac in my current Ecclesiology course, and von Balthasar had an arrestingly radical vision of the reach of God’s grace, and of the Church’s role in the manifestation of God’s love for the lost and forsaken in the world. I’ve read plenty od theologians who have presented awe-inspiring visions of God; I don’t think I’ve ever read anyone possessed of such an optimistic – and charitable – sacramentalism.

Therefore, if any one is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. So we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us.

We beseech you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.

2 Corinthians 5:17-20 (RSV)

American Religion’s Dismissal of Apostolicity

Posted: Wednesday, November 24, 2010 (7:02 pm), by John W Gillis


Quote of the Day for Wednesday, November 24th, 2010:

Henri de Lubac, from The Splendor of the Church, translated from the 2nd French edition (1953) in 1956, and re-published by Ignatius in 1999 (p.86f):

When we recite the Credo we profess our belief in the Church; and if we believe that the Church is both a universal and a visible community, then we cannot – without betrayal of our faith – be content to grant that the universal Church is made visible and concrete to the individual by that particular community which is his, regardless of the separation of these communities one from another. This would only be another way of resolving the problem of unity by an appeal to an “invisible Church”; it would still be a case of “Platonizing” rather than listening to Christ. “From the very morrow of Christ’s death” a

Church was in existence and living, just as Christ had constituted her; the Church as she is should be in verifiable continuity with the community of the first disciples, which was in turn, and from the beginning, a clearly defined group, social in character, organized, and having its heads, its rites and – soon – its legislation. She should be united to the “root of Christian society” by a real and uninterrupted succession; the need for that cannot be got rid of by treating it as something “profane”, “mechanistic”, or “legalistic”.

… Ruminating tonight, on the eve of Thanksgiving, about the English Separatists and Puritans who spawned this great social and political experiment in North America, their religious character, and how they continue to influence this culture – and not just with turkey dinners at harvest time!

As submerged as American culture still is (comparatively) in religion and/or religious sentiment (at least outside the halls of our “influence” institutions), there are few sentiments more culturally pervasive than the indigenous distrust of what is called “organized religion.” This is pretty clearly traceable to the influential prejudices of the pilgrims, with their congregationalist, dis-organized (or even anti-organized) religion, and it’s hard not to rue the possibility lost in the process.

When you close yourself off to the body as an historical reality (e.g. by “spiritualizing” it), you close yourself off to precisely that which is redeemed in the historical Christ event of Incarnation, Passion, Resurrection, and Ascension. Thus, you close yourself off to the transcendence that belongs to the historical Church in its regeneration as the Body of Christ. Christ may remain truly Christ – how could He be otherwise? – but the community lacks the characteristic unity, sanctity, heritage, and universality that marks the Church as the living manifestation of Christ’s continued presence in the world. That’s no trivial poverty.

One Complex Reality

Posted: Sunday, November 21, 2010 (6:00 am), by John W Gillis


Quote of the Day, from Lumen Gentium, #8 (The Second Vatican Council: Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, promulgated Nov. 21, 1964)

[T]he [ecclesial] society structured with hierarchical organs and the Mystical Body of Christ, are not to be considered as two realities, nor are the visible assembly and the spiritual community, nor the earthly Church and the Church enriched with heavenly things; rather they form one complex reality which coalesces from a divine and a human element. For this reason, by no weak analogy, [the Church] is compared to the mystery of the incarnate Word. As the assumed nature, inseparably united to Him, serves the divine Word as a living organ of salvation, so, in a similar way, does the visible social structure of the Church serve the Spirit of Christ, who vivifies it, in the building up of the body. This is the one Church of Christ which in the Creed is professed as one, holy, catholic and apostolic[.]

 

ΑΩ

I am the light of the world (Jn 8:12).

As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world (Jn 9:5).

I am with you always, to the end of the world (Mt 28:20).

You are the light of the world (Mt 5:14).

He who hears you hears me (Lk 10:16).

woman&infant

The Kennedy Funeral & the Faces of Scandal

Posted: Wednesday, September 9, 2009 (11:22 pm), by John W Gillis


There’s sure been a lot of chatter over the past week or so about the Ted Kennedy funeral, and Cardinal O’Malley’s participation in it. This is hardly surprising, given how divisive a character Kennedy was. Cardinal O’Malley, in what strikes me as a surprising move in several respects, has gone public with an explanation of his decision, in response to extensive criticism that undoubtedly ranged in impetus from befuddlement to anger. I appreciate his attempt at explaining himself – as I appreciate the difficulty of this whole problematic affair – but there are some elements of this episode I find deeply troubling.

I was among the many who were dismayed at certain aspects of the handling of the affair, though I didn’t feel it was appropriate to comment on at the time. Then there were  a couple thoughts in the Cardinal’s comments that struck me as diverting focus away from the real issue at hand, and my trouble with the whole matter was compounded when I read this article by Madison (Wisconsin) Bishop Robert C. Morlino. At that point, I’d had enough.

Both men went out of their way to praise Senator Kennedy for the good work that he had done in various areas over the years. Now, whether or not the state-centric, “give a hungry man someone else’s fish” social problem solving approach, endemic to contemporary progressive liberalism which Kennedy exemplified, is truly good work, Kennedy clearly believed it was (as do so many others, including, apparently, both of these bishops). I’ve been to enough funerals to know that it seems to serve a legitimate pastoral purpose toward the bereaved to lionize even the most insignificant of contributions of the deceased, so I can certainly understand the approach in that respect (even if it obscures the real point of the funeral Mass), but not without simultaneously realizing that this was an exceedingly public situation, with a scope of pastoral impact that was not only far broader than the vast majority of funerals, but also decidedly more complex.

One of the more eyebrow-raising comments in Bishop Morlino’s piece was his assertion that the funeral Mass was a source of scandal in that it led people into sinful expressions of un-charitableness toward Kennedy. Archbishop O’Malley also seemed to use the opportunity to take umbrage at the angry, though without his brother bishop’s sharp dramatic flair. These accusations may be true, but they are made at the expense of the recognition of the profound betrayal felt by many good people within the Church – including not only those who fell into vindictiveness, but also many more who held their tongues and prayed for humility – at the sight of Church leaders seeming to shrug their shoulders at the most important spiritual crisis facing our culture. Bishop Morlino’s assertion, in particular, seemed designed to undercut, by anticipation of argument, any valid expressions of criticism stemming from the more obvious interpretation of the scandal attached to this Mass, namely: the projection of the heretical idea that the culture of abortion is – or can be made – compatible with the sacramental life of the Church. It’s not as if the Church is not deeply embroiled in this very heresy on an on-going basis!

I’m not suggesting that the matter of whether or not Senator Kennedy should have been afforded a Catholic funeral is one for you or I to consider, for it is not only not our decision to make, but is dependent in large part upon that which we cannot possibly know – namely his relation to Christ and His Church at his death, a matter ultimately hidden in the interior forum of conscience. Besides, it hardly seems charitable to even consider denying a Catholic funeral to anyone who desired one. But there is an exterior forum as well, which the Church – the episcopacy in particular – has a duty to attend to, and if a latae sententiae excommunication is incurred by a woman procuring an abortion, her abortionist, and any others formally collaborating in the crime, it is awfully hard to see how a legislator who was an open and unapologetic  promoter of abortion “choice” would not also be guilty of formal cooperation when said “choice” was inevitably made. Senator Kennedy’s views and actions in defiance of the moral order – and the Church’s clear teaching – were so well-known as to be notorious. He was the poster child for pro-abortion Catholics.

So while it’s all well and fine for a bishop to presume reconciliation, it seems to me a great disservice to the many looking on, who see only the public record, to make no attempt to publically acknowledge that the crimes committed by Kennedy required repentance and forgiveness. That might be a delicate thing to try to do under the circumstances, but I’m hardly suggesting I think the funeral was a good idea to begin with. And frankly, it would seem to be a pastoral imperative to make it very clear that this rampant heresy of rationalized murder is a clear and present danger to the immortal souls of everyone in the Western world (and beyond). Charity may demand that we assume Ted Kennedy died in a state of grace, but whether he did or not, there is nothing anyone can do to change it now. In other words, the real pastoral issue (e.g. the saving of souls) has little to do with Ted, and much to do with those who have yet to face their own, certain, judgment. If participation in this abortion holocaust is a mortal sin, it is by no means “compassionate” to make it appear that it doesn’t really matter in the end. Who benefits from that, except the devil?

Bishop Morlino complained about a perceived lack of mercifulness coming from the critics within the Church, but the truth is that the notion of mercy was largely missing from the proceedings themselves. I think most of the critics would have been satisfied if the proceedings had reflected a communal plea for God’s mercy upon the soul of a brother sinner; indeed, it could have been a great teaching moment. Instead, we were treated to a polite evasion of the most crucial matters, a liturgical rite lamely disconnected from the spirit of the proceedings, and the public lionization of a notorious sinner within the context of the Mass (some have referred to it as a canonization, and with good reason – it was embarrassing listening to people speak of Kennedy as if he were already in heaven, expressions that were not only vacuous, but, coming during a funeral, violations of canon law).

But what bothers me the most, both in the subtler words of Cardinal O’Malley, and in the harsher words of Bishop Morlino, is the insinuation that those who hold and proclaim the sure and ancient teaching of the Church are responsible for a state of division within the Church – or at least of perpetuating it. It reminds me of the way people blame Pope Paul VI for dividing the Church at the end of the 1960s by publishing Humanae Vitae – as if the dissenters weren’t the ones responsible for the division!

I imagine the bishops are frustrated by the exposure of the rift, but let’s be very clear: there is visible division in the Church stemming from the liberal abortion license because some people support abortion rights in dissent from Church teaching, yet claim to be in Communion with the Church nonetheless. (Actually, the fact that any of the baptized assert abortion rights creates division in the Church, but that takes the matter to another level, beyond the scope of our consideration.) If people get angry at such injustice being done to the Church they love, perhaps it is with good reason, and perhaps they deserve to be treated with a bit more kindness than their shepherds have managed to muster here. God help us if we begin appeasing the demands for unfaithfulness to the truth, for the sake of avoiding uncomfortable conflict.

At the end of the day, though, the real issue seems to me to be the ability of the Church to fulfill her mission to proclaim the Gospel, where the question of her credibility is of paramount importance. The Church may be widely admired for her good works, but she is otherwise seen by many (including more than a few Christians) as just another political player on the world stage – and a clumsy one at that. Nothing in the handling of this matter provided evidence to the contrary, as far as I can see. By disregarding the great moral crisis that hung over the event like a storm cloud, the Church gave the impression that abortion is just another political issue, subject to the ebb and flow of circumstance and expediency. And that plays right into the hands of her enemies, eager to paint the Church’s outrageous claims to moral authority as fraudulent. That might be the most tragic scandal to emerge from this mess.

Catholic Education & Sotomayor

Posted: Thursday, June 4, 2009 (10:36 pm), by John W Gillis


sotomayor&obama I don’t agree very often with what Michael Paulson says over at the Articles of Faith blog at Boston.com – he doesn’t even ask the right questions, as a rule – but I had to concur with something he said the other day about President Obama’s address introducing Sonia Sotomayor as his nominee for Justice Souter’s Supreme Court seat: he said he was struck by “the language he used to describe the role of Catholic schools in offering children a path out of poverty.” Here is the quote from the President’s remarks:

“But Sonia’s mom bought the only set of encyclopedias in the neighborhood, sent her children to a Catholic school called Cardinal Spellman out of the belief that with a good education here in America all things are possible.”

You won’t get any argument out of me by suggesting that the way to get your children a good education here in America is to send them to Catholic schools, but I have to wonder what the President’s good friends and supporters in the public school teachers’ unions (never mind management) thought about that remark.

Meanwhile, at about the same time this remark was made, the papers reported that the last Catholic parochial school in the Jamaica Plain section of Boston would be closing next year, due primarily to declining enrollment. And as true as it is that the academic performance is superior, and as important as a sound academic foundation is to the life of the intellect, you can believe me when I say that academics is about the least of the good reasons I send my children to Catholic schools.

It wasn’t very long ago that Catholic families were strongly encouraged by the faith community to utilize the parochial schools as an important element of providing their children a good Catholic upbringing. As the parochial school systems sags and slowly collapses under the weight of indifference, it strikes me that such encouragement is almost wholly lacking these days in parish life. Local sponsorship of the responsibility for Catholic education seems limited to bulletin notices of area open houses, and an occasional fair to provide schools tables from which to hand out marketing literature normally reserved in magazine racks in the back of the church.

This seems to be part of a trend among much of the laity of abandoning anything distinctively Catholic. People just want to fit in – and I don’t understand why the priests seem so disinterested in resisting the trend. Maybe they try harder than I give them credit for, but there is simply insufficient depth to the soil of parish life in the form of supportive and receptive laity – I don’t know. It just seems to me that if so many Catholics want to blend in seamlessly to the larger, secular, culture – without being willing at the same time to abandon their Catholic name, then they can’t possibly discern a necessary difference between Catholicism and the spirit of the age.

Regarding the schools, it is as if people view the parochial schools as nothing more than public schools with incrementally better academics, and unwanted tuition bills. Actually, the parochial schools offer an environment relatively free of the fashionable academic conceit of godlessness, as well as a moral seriousness that not only doesn’t nurture the narcissistic insolence prevalent among too many youth today, but refuses to tolerate it very far. I won’t even mention the sexual mores.

You can’t put a price tag on that, and if Catholics, on the whole, could get their act together around this, there is no good reason why the tuition bill for parochial education couldn’t be at least cut to a nominal stipend, if not avoided altogether. It is widely said that the parochial schools do their superior work while spending less per child than the public schools do. Whether it be through vouchers or some other method, it would only take political will to allow Catholics (or anyone: non-Catholics are at least a significant minority in most parochial schools) to choose to send their children to Church-operated schools instead of government-operated schools, without paying twice.

The easy answer to the acculturation puzzle is to make a distinction between “real” Catholics and nominal Catholics, and to expect the nominal Catholics to find the exits, but I think that attitude does a disservice to those we might call spiritually poor. From the bishops on down, we try too hard to get along, and, in consequence, we fail to make the case to the many that Catholicism has something radical to offer; that being a Catholic is different than anything else. The loss of interest in the schools is just an obvious example of the loss of Catholic meaning through the withering of Catholic culture – although, for all it’s worth, I have little confidence that Justice Sotomayor, if she is confirmed, will demonstrate how a Catholic education can help shape the moral character with Catholic meaning… I hope I’m wrong.

Part of the Difference Between Mission and Agenda

Posted: Tuesday, March 31, 2009 (10:59 pm), by John W Gillis


While Pope Benedict XVI is busy bracing the winds of ill-will to find a way to heal rifts of schism within the Roman Catholic Church, the Anglican Communion continues to rush breathlessly toward implosion. Harvard’s Episcopal Divinity School announced today the appointment of the Reverend Dr. Katherine Hancock Ragsdale as the new president and dean of the seminary, a woman with apparently no academic credentials whatsoever, but who luckily happens to be an ordained lesbian Episcopalian priestess. Not only that, but she is a stalwart supporter of the legal right to kill prenatal children, and executive director of a self-identifying “progressive” organization, Political Research Associates, devoted to saving the world from conservatism – which includes, says their homepage, reports explicitly aimed at “debunking” the value of marriage in combating social ills such as poverty! Yes, God save us from marriage, and other right-wing conspiracies – by all means.

I reckon that, at this point, that’s about all the credentials you need to be charged with the formation of the ECUSA’s intellectuals and divines. I’m tempted to say “last one out please shut off the lights,” but I have a hunch carbon footprinting is probably the highest priority moral issue in those environs these days, so there’s probably no need. I’m sure I sound cynical, but, well…

More on Richard John Neuhaus

Posted: Saturday, January 10, 2009 (9:02 pm), by John W Gillis


I don’t often post just to provide links to content elsewhere on the web, but I’ll make an exception for this. The good folks over at First Things yesterday reposted a remarkable personal essay Fr. Richard John Neuhaus had published in the April 2002 edition of the magazine, on the matter of his conversion to Catholicism. It’s a powerful piece made all the more poignant by his recent passing – in fact, the hovering presence of his death really hammers home just how sound his thinking was. I had all I could do yesterday to resist spamming all my friends with links to the essay – and I do that even less frequently than I post pass-along links on my blog. The essay is that good.