Sunday, April 30, 2006

The passing of a giant ...

John Kenneth Galbraith, 97, Dies; Economist Held a Mirror to Society [NYT]

Here's the story from the Economic Times (India)

The world is, indeed, [to quote an email from a friend] "vastly poorer, and certainly vastly less cheerful"

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Lack of love felt most by children ....

From Pope Benedict's message to the members of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences.
Certain demographic indicators have clearly pointed to the urgent need for critical reflection in this area. While the statistics of population growth are indeed open to varying interpretations, there is general agreement that we are witnessing on a planetary level, and in the developed countries in particular, two significant and interconnected trends: on the one hand, an increase in life expectancy, and, on the other, a decrease in birthrates. As societies are growing older, many nations or groups of nations lack a sufficient number of young people to renew their population.

This situation is the result of multiple and complex causes -- often of an economic, social and cultural character -- which you have proposed to study. But its ultimate roots can be seen as moral and spiritual; they are linked to a disturbing deficit of faith, hope and, indeed, love. To bring children into the world calls for self-centered eros to be fulfilled in a creative agape rooted in generosity and marked by trust and hope in the future. By its nature, love looks to the eternal (cf. "Deus Caritas Est," No. 6). Perhaps the lack of such creative and forward-looking love is the reason why many couples today choose not to marry, why so many marriages fail, and why birthrates have significantly diminished.

It is children and young people who are often the first to experience the consequences of this eclipse of love and hope. Often, instead of feeling loved and cherished, they appear to be merely tolerated. In "an age of turbulence" they frequently lack adequate moral guidance from the adult world, to the serious detriment of their intellectual and spiritual development. Many children now grow up in a society which is forgetful of God and of the innate dignity of the human person made in God's image. In a world shaped by the accelerating processes of globalization, they are often exposed solely to materialistic visions of the universe, of life and human fulfillment.
One part that jumped out at me ... "This situation is the result of multiple and complex causes -- often of an economic, social and cultural character ..." -- I do hope there is some systematic study by this body of the ways in which the Industrial revolution and the rise of captitalism, while bringing about unprecedented prosoperity for sure, has also been a huge factor in the breakdown of the traditional family.

I was reminded of a correspondent writing in the April issue of First Things (not yet online. They're doing a two-month delay before bringing all the contents online.), responding to Pope Benedict's essay "Europe and its Discontents" in the January 2006 issue (really, an extract from the recently published Without Roots: The West, Relativism, Christianity, Islam). The correspondent suggests that the Pope addresses Marxism only as a political theory, and neglects an important question: why did it draw so much support?
I would suggest that Marx gave a wrong answer to a right question: How shall we counter the dehumanization of the Industrial Revolution? If we wish to defend the family today, we need to understand the extent to which it was attacked by the sudden explosion of industrial capitalism. Almost overnight, cities replaced villages, factories replaced guilds, and the blue-collar commuter was born.

Mark defined the problem as a class struggle and insisted that classes had to be eliminated. ... We rightly rejected this proposition. I would argue, however, that we did not reject one of the insidious premises of Marxist theory: that the value of life is judged by its contribution to the economy. ... this is the origin of the self-hatred pervading the West.
The correspondent is Rev. Al Hoger, of Immanuel Lutheran Church in Wichita, KS. Of course, not to ignore or diminish the Pope's assertion that the roots are deeper, of a spiritual nature.

[Aside, I absolutely loved the nonchalant way the author was identified in the January 2006 essay. "Pope Benedict is pope of the Catholic Church." That he is! Heh.]

Me want ....

United Press International - NewsTrack - Papal euros to go on sale

Brave New World

The last issue of the Economist has yet another excellent survey (a hallmark for the periodical), this one of New Media. They really have a way of putting together the issues in a way that brings crystal clarity to the discussion. Here's how the survey starts out:
THE next big thing in 1448 was a technology called “movable type”, invented for commercial use by Johannes Gutenberg, a goldsmith from Mainz (although the Chinese had thought of it first). The clever idea was to cast individual letters (type) and then compose (move) these to make up printable pages. This promised to disrupt the mainstream media of the day—the work of monks who were manually transcribing texts or carving entire pages into wood blocks for printing. By 1455 Mr Gutenberg, having lined up venture capital from a rich compatriot, Johannes Fust, was churning out bibles and soon also papal indulgences (slips of paper that rich people bought to reduce their time in purgatory). The start-up had momentum, but its costs ran out of control and Mr Gutenberg defaulted. Mr Fust foreclosed, and a little bubble popped.

Even so, within decades movable type spread across Europe, turbo-charging an information age called the Renaissance. Martin Luther, irked by those indulgences, used printing presses to produce bibles and other texts in German. Others followed suit, and vernaculars rose as Latin declined, preparing Europe for nation-states. Religious and aristocratic elites first tried to stop, then control, then co-opt the new medium. In the centuries that followed, social and legal systems adjusted (with copyright laws, for instance) and books, newspapers and magazines began to circulate widely. The age of mass media had arrived. Two more technological breakthroughs—radio and television—brought it to its zenith, which it probably reached around 1958, when most adult Americans simultaneously turned on their television sets to watch “I Love Lucy”.
Second incarnation

In 2001, five-and-a-half centuries after Mr Gutenberg's first bible, “Movable Type” was invented again. Ben and Mena Trott, high-school sweethearts who became husband and wife, had been laid off during the dotcom bust and found themselves in San Francisco with ample spare time. Ms Trott started blogging—ie, posting to her online journal, Dollarshort—about “stupid little anecdotes from my childhood”. For reasons that elude her, Dollarshort became very popular, and the Trotts decided to build a better “blogging tool”, which they called Movable Type. “Likening it to the printing press seemed like a natural thing because it was clearly revolutionary; it was not meant to be arrogant or grandiose,” says Ms Trott to the approving nod of Mr Trott, who is extremely shy and rarely talks. Movable Type is now the software of choice for celebrity bloggers.

These two incarnations of movable type make convenient (and very approximate) historical book-ends. They bracket the era of mass media that is familiar to everybody today. The second Movable Type, however, also marks the beginning of a very gradual transition to a new era, which might be called the age of personal or participatory media. This culture is already familiar to teenagers and twenty-somethings, especially in rich countries. Most older people, if they are aware of the transition at all, find it puzzling.
It goes on to identify audience participation as one of the emerging keys of the new era (not just the internet era, but the always-on broadband era), of the age of citizen journalists, of the blurring of the distinction between media and content producers and consumers, of blogs and wikis and podcasts.

From the article on blogs:
Among the other technical features of blogs, two highlight the quintessentially social nature of blogging. The first is a “blogroll”, along the side of the blog page, which is a list of links to other blogs that the author recommends (not to be confused with the hyperlinks inside the posts). In practice, the blogroll is an attempt by the author to place his blog in a specific genre or group, and a reciprocal effort by a posse of bloggers to raise each other's visibility on the internet (because the number of incoming links pushes a blog higher in search-engine results). The other feature is “trackback”, which notifies (“pings”) a blog about each new incoming link from the outside—a sort of gossip-meter, in short.

Blogging is also about style. Dave Winer, a software engineer who pioneered several blogging technologies, and who keeps what by his own estimate is the longest-running blog of all (dating back to 1997), has argued that the essence of blogginess is “the unedited voice of a single person”, preferably an amateur. Blogs, in other words, usually have a raw, unpolished authenticity and individuality. This definition would exclude quite a few of the blogs that firms, public-relations people or newspapers set up nowadays. If an editor vets, softens or otherwise messes about with the writing, Mr Winer would argue, it is no longer a blog.
For these LiveJournal blogs, the average number of readers is seven, says Ms Trott. Such small audiences are common in participatory media. Indeed, they may conform to the biological norm, whereas mass-media audiences may have been an aberration. Robin Dunbar, an anthropologist at the University of Liverpool, has studied primates and discovered a surprisingly stable ratio between the relative size of the neocortex (thought to be responsible for the evolution of intelligence) and the size of groups formed by particular species. For humans, Mr Dunbar calculated, the upper limit is about 150. Many clans, tribes, fan clubs, start-ups and other groupings remain well below this limit, as do most blog networks.

The LiveJournal groups of readers are typical of the new-media era in another way. The bloggers (ie, creators) are one another's audience, so that distinctions between the two disappear. Creators and audiences congregate ad hoc in meandering conversations, a common space of shared imagination and interests., a social-networking and blogging service that last year was bought by News Corporation, Rupert Murdoch's media conglomerate, reflects this quality in its name.
On Podcasting
It is not quite true, therefore, that podcasting is to audio as blogging is to text. Podcasting is about “time-shifting” (listening offline to something at a time of one's own choosing, as opposed to a broadcaster's), whereas reading blogs requires a live internet connection and a screen. More subtly, podcasts are different from blogs and wikis in that they cannot link directly to other podcasts. This makes podcasting a less social, and probably less revolutionary, medium.

Nonetheless, its rise has been nothing short of astonishing. Mr Curry's own podcast, The Daily Source Code, has several million listeners. Apple's iTunes, the software application and online music store that makes iPods work, currently lists 20,000 free podcasts and is adding them at a fast clip, all before podcasting's second birthday. Podcasting is even expanding from audio to video, although this trend is as yet so new that several words (“vodcasting”, “vidcasting” , “vlogging”) are still vying for the honour.

For listeners, the appeal is threefold. First, they become their own programmers, mixing the music and talk feeds that they enjoy. This liberates commuters, say, from commercial radio stations that, in America especially, seem only ever to get dumber and duller. Second, podcasts liberate listeners from advertising, and thus put an end to the tedious and dangerous toggling between the car radio's pre-set buttons at 100km an hour. (However, some podcasters are experimenting with putting advertisements into their podcasts.) Above all, the time-shifting that podcasts make possible liberates people from having to sit in their parked cars to hear the end of a good programme.
And of course, with a beginning that compares these times to the early 15th century, the wrap-up essay has the inevitable religious comparisons:
That leaves benefits and evils. Gutenberg's revolution undoubtedly had enormous democratising effects. It enabled entire populations to read the Bible in their own language, liberating them from Latinate clergies that had kept them in superstitious serfdom. [insert eye-roll here] Further on in the revolution, people got news from far-flung corners of the world; one of the things that impressed Alexis de Tocqueville during his travels through America in 1831 was that even frontier families in remote Michigan had weekly newspapers delivered to their doorsteps. And the dramatically lower cost of disseminating the written word allowed many more people to express themselves creatively.

Each of these benefits also seems to have had a dark side. The availability of religious texts in the vernacular led to literalist and fundamentalist movements, and indirectly to religious wars. The surge of textual expression produced not only classics but also pornography and propaganda. Printing presses reproduced “Mein Kampf” just as accurately as the Gospels.
(Surely there were religious wars before the printing press? Oh yeah ... let's see ... the rise of Islam, for one?) Anyway, a journal as relentlesly secular as the Economist can be forgiven such lapses ... :) It really is an excellent survey, and much food for thought. I don't know how many of those links work for non-subscribers, however I do have pdf files of all the articles in the survey available (in a convenient .767K zip file) on request (the perverse can go to and shell our $4.95 for a single .pdf of all the articles). There's also five neat audio interviews with various futurists and experts (Chris Anderson of Wired!). That's a slightly larger zip file (44MB, mp3s) if anyone is interested. [Yes, it behooves everyone to get a gmail account. I have tons of invites left! :-)]

[Don't forget Jonathan Last's great survey of the Catholic blogosphere and Internet in First Things, December 2005: God on the Internet.]

So much for rapprochement ... ?

BBC NEWS | World | Asia-Pacific | Vatican objects to Chinese bishop

Friday, April 28, 2006

Malaria death toll hits 75 in India, 300,000 sick: official - Yahoo! News

Malaria death toll hits 75 in India, 300,000 sick: official - Yahoo! News. With all the buzz about India's surging economy, the IT industry taking off, "India shining" and what not, it's always a sobering return to reality when one realizes just how uneven the development is, just what vast differences a few kilometers can make with respect to access to simple medicine (and more complicated stuff taken for granted in the US), between life and death.

"Present kingdom eschatology"

... this piece by Karen Armstrong in the Harvard Divinity School bulletin reminded me of those classic phrases from grad school Historical Jesus courses: "Present kingdom" vs. "future coming" etc. etc. related to Jesus' sayings about the Son of Man and the eschaton ... I'd say Karen Armstrong tends to favor the former, "Religion is about inhabiting the eternal in the here and now."
I think I can safely say that as a child my religious life was ruined by the notion of the afterlife. I was obsessed with the fear of Hell. The nuns at my convent school instructed me in the Catholic doctrine of mortal sin, which seemed perilously easy to commit. If you died with one unshriven and unrequited mortal sin on your soul, you would languish in Hell for all eternity. Religion, as far as I could see, was chiefly concerned with "getting into Heaven." A stockpile of prayers and good deeds could ensure my entry ticket into paradise, but I also resorted to the gaining of indulgences, the wearing of scapulas, and the practice of attending Mass on the first Friday of every month. If you managed five consecutive first Fridays, you were promised that you would not die without receiving the last rites and having the chance to confess all to a priest.

This type of piety seems no more religious than paying into a retirement annuity to secure a comfortable retirement in the hereafter. It is obsessed with self. Religion is supposed to be about the loss of the ego, not about its eternal survival in optimum conditions. It can also feed an attitude of exclusivity. I sometimes think that if some Christians arrived in Heaven and found everybody there, they would be furious: Heaven wouldn't be Heaven if the elect are deprived of the Schadenfreude of peering over the celestial parapets to watch the excluded unfortunates roasting below.
Now that the childhoold ghosts have been exorcized, we can continue ...
Not many of the world religions are as preoccupied with Heaven, Hell, and judgment as Christianity and Islam; these faiths absorbed much of the apocalyptic vision of Zoroastrianism, which was unique in the ancient world. Many of the great sages were wary of speaking about the afterlife. The afterlife has never been a major preoccupation in Judaism. St. Paul told his converts, "Eye hath not seen, ear hath not heard, nor has it entered into the heart of man what things God has prepared for those that love him." When asked whether a Buddha who had achieved the enlightenment of nirvana continued to exist after his death, the Buddha replied that this was an improper question, because we have no words to describe this state. It was, therefore, pointless to discuss it. It was far better to concentrate on this world. "Until you have learned to serve men, how can you serve spirits?" Confucius told his disciples, when they asked him how they should approach the gods and the ancestors, who were central to the ancient cult of China. "Until you know about the living, how can you learn about the dead?"

These sages may not have been interested in talking about the afterlife, but they were passionately concerned with the immortality of the self or the soul. But they did not believe that they had to wait until their death to experience this immortality.
All snarkiness aside, I don't think she's really that off-base, and she does have a way of helpfully synthesizing widely differing religious perspectives
The eschatology of the monotheistic religions was strongly influenced by the Zoroastrian apocalyptic vision, polarized in a desperate struggle between good and evil. Judaism has never placed much emphasis on the afterlife, but both Christianity and Islam have cultivated visions of Heaven, Hell, judgment, and eternal retribution and reward in a way that recalls Zoroaster's frightened and despairing vision. But all these faiths also understand the importance of the Golden Rule and the abandonment of egotism. In the parable of the sheep and goats, Jesus made it clear that it was practical charity that would bring human beings into the divine presence at the Great Judgment. When quoting an early Christian hymn, St. Paul told his Philippian converts that they must have the same mind as Christ Jesus, who achieved apotheosis and near godlike status by laying his dignity aside, emptying himself, and accepting the humiliation of death. The surrender of islam demands that we abandon the preening, prancing ego in the abasement and prostration of Muslim prayer.
But there's also this real eye-stopper:
Thus the Greek Orthodox do not believe that Jesus died to save us from our sins, but to enable us to become divine. Jesus, they claim, is the first fully deified human being, in the same way as the Buddha is the first enlightened human being in our historical era.
Do what? The Orthodox do not believe that Christ died to save us from our sins? Let's see, isn't that part of the earliest kerygma of the Resurrection that's recorded in the New Testament, right there in 1 Cor 15? And yes while the Orthodox didn't quite take on some of the more lurid understandings of vicarious atonement, I don't think that they would deny the doctrine. And really, isn't it a kind of flattening to claim that the apotheosis of Christianity is the same as the nirvana of Buddhism?

That's really where I see the problem: this burning need to show that, "at heart all religions are the same." When really, each religion ought to be lived in its particularity. Not that we can't learn from each other -- but this focus on a certain esoteric center to the exclusion and devaluing of other aspects really betrays another agenda: to find a universal religion that will be acceptable to all, or rather a religion that will be more palatable to the divines at Harvard, perhaps in conscious contrast to that preferred by the rabid fans at a NASCAR rally in South Carolina.

That's probably too gratuitous. Again, I am not at all against inter-faith dialogue. In these troubled times it's crucial. As long as it is honest, and doesn't betray what Pope John Paul called a "false irenicism." I was reminded of something Fr. Neuhaus wrote in the April First things:
As has been noted before in this space, Wolfe is a student of “religion in general” and is impatient with the commitment of others to religions in particular. Believers are right in thinking that religion is neglected in the academy but, says Wolfe, “the real problem is that most believers do not believe in religion. They believe in Christianity or Judaism or Islam or Hinduism or Buddhism—in a specific faith.” ... advocating that all religions are more or less equal degrades what the believer in any religion believes.
As those who know me will attest, I'm all about particularity. :) [Oh, I should mention a hat-tip to friend and commentor Assiniboine for sending me the article.]

As expected ...

John Allen has a masterful summary of the condom buzz that's gotten everyone aflutter.
Lozano Barragàn, however, has stressed in subsequent interviews that the work of his office is on-going and provisional, and has indicated that it will be up to Benedict XVI to decide if a document should be issued.

The study seems, at least in part, a response to public discussions of the issue among senior church officials, including several cardinals, such as Jean-Marie Lustiger, the former archbishop of Paris; Italian Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, the former archbishop of Milan; Swiss Cardinal George Cottier, theologian of the Papal Household under John Paul II; Cardinal Godfriend Danneels of Belgium; Cardinal Cormac Muphy-O'Connor of Westminster, England; and Lozano Barragàn himself, all of whom have supported condoms in the context of AIDS in one fashion or another.

Other senior officials have opposed such a move, including Cardinal Alfonso Lopez Trujillo, President of the Pontifical Council for the Family. In a 2004 interview with the BBC, Lopez Trujillo, a Colombian, argued that the HIV virus is small enough to "easily pass through" latex. Lopez also asserted that condoms encourage promiscuity, which he deemed among the root causes of the pandemic.

The Pagels Imposture ...

saw this a few days back at Bill Cork's: The Pagel's Imposture (at CWN). If accurate, it's another sign of the wishful thinking of revisionism, I'd say.
Put simply, Irenaeus did not write what Prof. Pagels wished he would have written, so she made good the defect by silently changing the text. Creativity, when applied to one's sources, is not a compliment. She is a very naughty historian.

The smell of the Arab street ...

... no, not what you're thinking. [Well, not sure what you're thinking ...]

The other day, driving out to that great Thai place off Charleston Hwy, I get an IM on the mobile from my buddy Mitch. Well, nothing great there. Except he's sitting somewhere over the Atlantic in a business class seat (attached to a Lufthansa airliner), wondering when they started offering internet connectivity in the air (apparently, since 2003), on his way to the Sudan.

Yep, you read that right. He's doing some stuff for the State Department there. Fresh out of college (and freshly wed too!). The kid's going places, I tell ya. Literally. :-)

Anyway, he's a great writer, so follow along at Egyptguy.

[And Mitchum, I figure the visitor from Khartoum on this blog earlier today was you ... so here's to you friend. Khuda hafiz!]

[Oh yeah, if you read his last journal entries you'll figure out the title of this post ... ]

I will awake the dawn ... (Ps 57)

So, on a whim, a few of us drove down to Folly Beach at 2:00 am and stayed up on the beach to greet the sunrise.

Just beautiful!

More at the Flickr page. [Link correct, thanks St. Eliz!]
Oh yeah --- now to catch up on sleep ... :-) Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Condoms: ahh ....

A clarification from Cardinal Barragán.
Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragán, clarifying information published recently in the media, told ZENIT that this "profound study," requested by Benedict XVI, takes into account "both the scientific and technical aspects linked to the condom, as well as the moral implications in all their amplitude."

The Pontifical Council for Health Care Workers does not have the "competency to present a document to the Church. It is the Holy Father who has the competency or whoever he entrusts" with the task, the cardinal explained.

"In the last analysis this Vatican dicastery is not a doctrinal dicastery; this dicastery does not produce documents," he continued. "Herein lies the error of some information. We are a pastoral dicastery to carry out the Church's presence with the sick, in particular, those who suffer from the AIDS virus.

"Within this competency, we have our medical, technical and theological consultors and we are doing this study with them."

"We are in the first stage," the 73-year-old cardinal said. "This study is promoting a dialogue only at the level of the Holy See and it is not finished yet. Once it's finished, will there be a document? There might or might not be. To issue a document is not proper to this dicastery. That it is or is not issued by another dicastery depends on the Holy Father."

Deconstructing Sen ...

In an Opinionjournal piece, Tinku Vardarajan takes apart Amartya Sen's "Identity and Violence," or, rather, the liberal Indian elites in general.
"Identity and Violence" is not an entirely tedious book, although it is more than a tad repetitive. Its thesis is that the ascription to individuals of "singular identities"--in other words, to speak of a person as "a Muslim" to the exclusion of other facets of his personality--leads to the "miniaturization of human beings." And this, he avers, is Not Good. It is also Not Accurate. And Unhelpful. And Divisive. And Dangerous.

Put another way, the reduction of individuals to a "choiceless singularity"--religion being, for the most part, a state one is born into--leads to the "solitarist belittling of human identity." Such reductiveness, Mr. Sen claims, merely plays into the hands of that rabble-rouser Samuel Huntington, who insists on seeing the world in terms of differentiated civilizations based largely on religion. Mr. Huntington's "The Clash of Civilizations," published in 1996, continues to play a Manichaean role--in Mr. Sen's view--in the war on terror. Mr. Sen asserts that, in truth, people have multiple identities and that the Huntingtonian view (which Mr. Sen simplifies to the point of caricature) is willfully blind to this complexity. But what exactly are these layers of identity that Mr. Sen speaks of?

Here is what he says: "The same person can be, without any contradiction, an American citizen, of Caribbean origin, with African ancestry, a Christian, a liberal, a woman, a vegetarian, a long-distance runner, a historian, a schoolteacher, a novelist, a feminist, a heterosexual, a believer in gay and lesbian rights, a theater lover, an environmental activist, a tennis fan, a jazz musician, and someone who is deeply committed to the view that there are intelligent beings in outer space with whom it is extremely urgent to talk (preferably in English)."

Apart from being a flawless recitation of a left-liberal catechism--except for the bit about outer space--what exactly does this mean? And how does all this help us? Mr. Sen is here conflating identity with predilection, as well as denying that there is--or can be--a hierarchy of potency within a catalog of personal states. I don't mean to belittle the power of endorphins, but is being a long-distance runner the same, in an accounting of identity, as being a Christian or an American? This is, perhaps, a ludic list of identities; but it is also faintly ludicrous.
So when Mr. Sen asks--Is a "religion-centered analysis of the people of the world a helpful way of understanding humanity?"--I ask back: Is ignoring religion, or diminishing its importance, a helpful way of understanding humanity? The view from Cambridge (Mass. and England) is clearly not the same as the view from my office in New York, which overlooks Ground Zero.

To understand Mr. Sen's desire to get away from religion-based political taxonomy, one must be aware of where, as they say, he is coming from. The Nobel laureate--who has taken to describing himself as a "feminist economist"--is a full-fledged member of the Indian "progressive" left. If there is one concern that drives this group, that animates its politics like no other, it is the perfectly well-meaning desire to safeguard India's Muslim minority from the excesses of the country's Hindu right. This desire has led to such contortions as the left's defense of a separate personal law for India's Muslims (which leaves Muslim women at the mercy of inequitable rules on divorce and inheritance) merely because the Hindu right campaigns for a uniform civil code for all Indian citizens, irrespective of religion.
You know, I'm with him (Vardarajan i.e.). Even with all my visceral opposition to the BJP and the Sangh Parivar (especially after Gujarat, 2002.), this particular bit of their platform - a Uniform Civil Code - always seemed reasonable (even if it was partly inspired by anti-Musim maliciousness). The bewildering variety of India's civil laws never made sense, not for a secular democracy, exemplified especially by the Shah Bano case. Besides the instinctive anti-Americanism of the Indian intelligentsia is irritating at best (even as people jockey to get their children student visas to come to the US?).

Last summer when I was in India, the Argumentative Indian had just been released -- it got middling reviews from the 'rents, and while lionized in many places, the main criticism seems to be that he makes broad generalizations about history at best, or even distortions of history to serve an ideological end. (Yes, the Sangh Parivar does this as well, but that doesn't legitimize it!). Seems like that has carried forth into his next book as well.

No, I haven't read either book. Or any of his economic stuf either! And I guess, part of why I liked the op ed was that it poked fun at the Indian left. We have such base motivations for what we read and like!] Back to Mr. Vardarajan:
People like Mr. Sen overlook Muslim or Islamic failings for fear of appearing "unsecular." Any political conflict in which one side is characterized as "Muslim" is automatically disparaged as being anti-Muslim. Conversely, if there is to be fault-finding based on religion (or civilization), then both sides must be depicted as guilty. So al Qaeda and the American soldiers at Abu Ghraib are grouped together as examples of what happens when there is "identity thinking" amenable to "brutal manipulation."

There is also a tendency on the part of thinkers like Mr. Sen to diminish the political and scientific contributions of the West and to glorify the achievements of non-Western (and, where possible, Islamic) societies. So the Muslim emperor Akbar, the lofty Mughal, is lauded for his tolerance of all faiths. But no one stops to ask why the edifice of Islamic tolerance collapsed after his death in 1605.

Likewise, early Islamic-Arabic breakthroughs in mathematics are held up as proof of intellectual greatness--and, yes, at the time of their conception they were indeed great. But why did the Islamic world flounder later into a state of long-running anti-scientism? As always, Mr. Sen compares the very best of the non-West with quotidian practice in the West. This is a common problem with the defenders of Islam--or, in Mr. Sen's case, with the critics of the critics of Islam.

Mr. Sen, inescapably, is a member of Bengal's bhadralok, or gentleman class. (As the joke goes: One Bengali is a poet; two Bengalis are a film society; three are a political party; and four are two political parties--both leftist.) What Mr. Sen really wants is for all of us to be "fair" to each other. Fair enough. But his idealistic thesis twists and turns to remake the world in its own image. Ultimately, his picture--though pretty--bears little relation to reality. It makes me so sad.

Condomania ... and Martini ...

The rumors started on Sunday and heads started exploding (just read the comments on that one!). American Papist has a decent roundup. Definitely bears watching ...

And finally, here's a full translation of L'Espresso's interview with Cardinal Maritni from Sandro Magister (again, causing some regions of the blogosphere to go apoplectic. Maybe apocalyptically apoplectic? :-)Not that some things he said aren't problematic ... ) Magister does have a tendency to, perhaps, over-dramatize things
To the Church hierarchy, Martini says that “prohibitions and no’s will not be very useful, above all if they are premature, even if sometimes one will need to be able to say them.” The Church’s task is rather “to form consciences, teach the discernment of the best choice in every situation, and give the profound reasons for good actions.”

Last April 6, speaking to the young people packed into St. Peter’s Square, Benedict XVI recommended to them the “many wonderful books by cardinal Martini, a true master of ‘lectio divinia’, which help us to enter into the living world of Sacred Scripture.”

Two weeks later, cardinal Martini responded with the first great act of opposition to this pontificate from the upper levels of the Church.
Really now, this can hardly be called a personal thing between Martini and Benedict. Martini has been known for years as the "liberal" within the College of Cardinals. He's expressing his mind. He's older than the Pope. And really, not Papabile any more, in my opinion.

On doubting Thomases ...

Fr. Cantalamessa is just as wonderful as always (again, via Zenit).
(John 20:19-31)

"Unless I Place My Hand in His Side, I Will Not Believe"

"Eight days later, his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. The doors were shut, but Jesus came and stood among them, and said: 'Peace be with you.' Then he said to Thomas, 'Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand and place it in my side; do not be faithless, but believing.' Thomas answered him, 'My Lord and my God!' Jesus said to him, 'Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.'"

With the emphasis on the incident of Thomas and his initial incredulity ("Unless I see in his hands the print of the nails, and place my finger in the mark of the nails, I will not believe"), the Gospel addresses the man of the technological age who believes only what he can verify. Among the apostles, we can call Thomas our contemporary.

St. Gregory the Great says that, with his incredulity, Thomas was more useful to us than all the other apostles who believed right away. Acting in this way, so to speak, he obliged Jesus to give us a "tangible proof of the truth of his resurrection." Faith in the resurrection benefited by his doubts. This is true, at least in part, when applied to the numerous "Thomases" of today who are the nonbelievers.

The criticism of nonbelievers and dialogue with them, when carried out in respect and reciprocal loyalty, are very useful to us. Above all they make us humble. They oblige us to take note that faith is not a privilege or an advantage for anyone. We cannot impose it or demonstrate it, but only propose it and show it with our life. "What have you that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if it were not a gift?" says St. Paul (1 Corinthians 4:7). In the end, faith is a gift, not a merit, and as all gifts it can only be lived in gratitude and humility.

The relationship with nonbelievers also helps us to purify our faith of clumsy representations. Very often what nonbelievers reject is not the true God, the living God of the Bible, but his double, a distorted image of God that believers themselves have contributed to create. Rejecting this God, nonbelievers oblige us to go back to the truth of the living and true God, who is beyond all our representations and explanations, and not to fossilize or trivialize him.

But there is also a wish to be expressed: that St. Thomas might find today many imitators not only in the first part of his story -- when he states he does not believe -- but also at the end, in that magnificent act of faith that leads him to exclaim: "My Lord and my God!"

Thomas is also imitable because of another fact. He does not close the door; he does not remain in his position, considering the problem resolved once and for all. In fact, we find him eight days later with the other apostles in the Cenacle. If he had not wished to believe, or to "change his opinion," he would not have been there. He wants to see, to touch: Therefore, he is searching. And at the end, after he has seen and touched with his hand, he exclaims to Jesus, not as someone defeated but as victorious: "My Lord and my God!" No other apostle had yet gone out to proclaim Christ's divinity with so much clarity.
(Emphasis added. For me, one of the biggest problems in evangelization is the smug attitude of believers who wear an air of supercilious superiority that is the biggest turn off ever. Go read this post at Mark Mossa's blog which demonstrates what I mean.)

Easter: East and West ...

It's not Orthodox or Catholic -- it's Christ! A neat pieace at Zenit.
Easter has been given different dates, but "in reality there is no difference" between the feast celebrated by Catholics and by Orthodox, says a director of religious literature.

Following the Julian calendar, the Orthodox Patriarchate of Moscow celebrated Easter on Sunday, as did other Orthodox Churches, as opposed to the Church of the Latin rite, which celebrated Easter the previous Sunday, as established by the Gregorian calendar.

"Easter cannot be Catholic or Orthodox -- it is Christ's Easter," said Orthodox priest Giorgio Chistyakov, director of religious literature of Russia's State Library of Foreign Literature.

"Christ rose from the dead, and when Christians began to celebrate Easter, the Church was one; there was no divergence between East and West," Father Chistyakov added. "It was another matter when different rites appeared later. That is why today the difference lies only in the way of celebrating it.

"The Byzantine rite took shape around the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries. In it, for example, there are prayers sung consecutively that make up a very special part of the Mass. However, the essence of the celebration is the same."

The Orthodox priest continued: "The ancient songs of exaltation are a part of the Office that was kept only in the Western rite. In principle, it is thought that the latter were also found in the Eastern, as is the case of the custom of baptizing during Easter, which is now preserved in the liturgy of the Easter Vigil in the West."
Read on.

The Pope and Prada: redux

The WSJ has an article (subscriber only. Thanks, Dogwood, for passing it on!) that explores Benedict's image as a purveyor of fashion labels. Or, rather, how fashion execs are trying to cash in (without appearing to) on the supposedly fashion-crazy Pontiff.
Benedict XVI is striking a snazzier profile, presenting international brands with a welcome change of pace. Being associated with the pope is worth at least 100 times more than an A-list celebrity because the pontiff has a more devoted following, says John Allert, chief executive of the British unit of Interbrand, a global branding consultancy that is part of the Omnicom Group Inc.
But unlike movie stars, who can command huge sums for product endorsements, or the queen of England, who discreetly allows companies to mention royal patronage, the pope, as the moral and spiritual leader of more than one billion Catholics, endorses holiness and chastity but not products.

That means companies have to hope the pontiff uses a product they have donated to him and then tastefully note the event, or delicately capitalize on a photograph showing the 79-year-old theologian using or wearing a particular brand. Astute marketers say the key words are "tastefully" and "delicately." Pursuing pope-and-product juxtaposition poses risks. Brands have to be careful not to appear opportunistic or they could risk a backlash with the pope's followers. "The question of endorsing products, especially from a figure such as the pope, raises an enormous number of questions in terms of the ethics of each company," says Ben Cronin, general manager and research director of S.Comm, an international advertising-research firm.
A senior Vatican official who asked not to be named says that when it comes to worldly goods, Benedict XVI's choice of personal accessories is "completely arbitrary."

The official adds: "He's aware of the buzz, but mostly he laughs about it, because it's so absurd. What does he really have to choose? He doesn't wear a tie or coat. The glasses he wears are the same glasses he wore as a cardinal, as is the pen he writes with."
And what about Prada itself?
The most widely publicized papal branding event appears to have been the result of mistaken identity.
Over the past few months, scores of media reports have dubbed Benedict XVI the "Prada Pope," crediting the Italian fashion house with having made the pope's eye-catching red loafers.
The senior Vatican official says the loafers were actually made by the pope's personal cobbler. But Prada has refused to confirm or deny the reports, allowing the press speculation to continue. A spokesman for Prada said the fashion house lacked "the necessary elements" to make an accurate determination.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

God or the girl: the finale ...

[:: edit:: -- so what's up with the anonymous comment on this post that Steve is not and will not be in seminary? ::]

So the big finale was tonight. But first: Pro Ecclesia has a round-up of blogs commenting on the show, with a mixed review himself (yours truly is linked from there too!). And Amy's just weighed in as well. My initia review from last week is below.

At the beginning of the episode (again, watched with several students), I felt a little antsy as they repeated clips from the previous episode. I guess they might have anticipated viewers tuning in who might not have caught the first four episodes ... and/or that this helped the build up to the announcement about The Decision.

This was probably the weakest part of the show -- this idea that somehow this is a Final Decision, with no turning back. Contradicted right away by one of the guys (Dan) deciding not to decide, and to continue college studies and youth ministry for the time being. It's not a Final Decision -- as others have mentioned, even the decision to enter seminary is hardly final. People can (and so often do) change their minds. It's a tough process!

All those are quibbles however. Overall, as I said before, it's good to see the Catholic faith being treated with such respect and seriousness. I'll be getting the DVD for the local campus ministry to use as a resource. I hope our Diocese uses it as well in some way.

I loved the six month follow up -- showing each of them in their different occupations, all with some sense of peace, and of having listened to and followed the Lord, and of this sense of life as this continual tuning in ... continual listening to His will. Nella sua volontà è la nostra pace, as Dante put it --- in His will is our peace!

[I also wondered what kind of impact, if any, participating in the production of this show had on the producers and other crew.]

And Steve? He made his announcement in front of his whole parish! Wow! What a sense of the communion of believers, of all supporting him in his journey, and praying for him! Having been there before (well, not of having made a dramatic announcement to a parish, but having said "yes" to God's call in this way already), I instantly identified with him and found myself cheering him along. I never thought I'd find myself praying for a "TV character" as I have for these four guys!

Steve's words, so profound, so true, said with such gratitude, I've found becoming my own: "If I am fortunate, God will make me a priest."

So, the biggest surprise of all, this show actually had a spiritual impact on me.

Kudos, A&E!

Mepkin Abbey -- other shots

(As we left the Abbey, we stopped at a KFC in Moncks Corner for dinner. The severe thunderstorms that they'd been warning about all day finally came through. Quite dramatic. But a little bit of photoediting certainly helps evoke a far more dramatic atmosphere!)

I've created a photo set at Flickr with the Mepkin shots. Posted by Picasa

Mepkin ABbey -- trees

The trees at Mepkin are another thing altogether ... stately, elegant, with Spanish Moss draped over them. Some are centuries old.

This first one is the Whomping Willow for sure!

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Mepkin Abbey --- critters.

No, I didn't take photos of the bugs that joined us for our picnic lunch by the river ... :-)

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Mepkin Abbey --- statues ...

Noticed a few new carved things on the grounds (well "new" in the last two years, since my last visit). An interesting statue of St. John the Beloved with the Savior, with the caption, "Walking through the Cornfields" (but missing a hand and a few digits!) and and then this interesting carving of the Holy Family in a felled tree ...

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Mepkin Abbey - I

Took a group down on retreat to the Abbey of Our Lady of Mepkin (a Trappist monastery) down near Moncks Corner. Mepkin Abbey is simply an amazing spot - it's always so peaceful and tranquil and silent. And, in my current frame of mind, a soothing balm.

We prayed Nones with the monks and had a few reflections on the Resurrection, and spend the afternoon wandering quietly through the beautiful grounds.

Vespers, as the sun lowers over the Cooper river, and the voices echo in the beautiful church, is always a special time. This time, it was especially wonderful to see Abbot Francis Kline, who's been battling leukemia, at the organ.

In this and following posts, I'll share a few photos from the trip.

As I said, the grounds are beautiful, especially this section on the Cooper River. (The last time we were here, there was a wedding taking place!)

The best spot for quiet contemplation ...

Love the algae/lichen/moss thingy on this stagnant water ... as I got closer I noticed with a start ...

... that there was another visitor basking in the sun! Posted by Picasa

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Cheraw II

Here's some pictures from a previous trip (well, the top one was this last visit).

The Matheson house, the place were Sherman camped during his stay. (Literally. His generals stayed in the house. He camped in the front yard!)

St. Peter's Catholic Church.

Cheraw is also the home of Bishop Patrick Lynch, (mentioned below)

That was his house ...

And here is an interior shot of St. Peter's Church.

[And here's a link to a map showing the location of Cheraw]

The sweetest little town in Dixie ...

So Thursday evening found me driving to the quaint little town of Cheraw in the northeastern part of the state, in the heart of the Pee Dee region of South Carolina with my dear friend Matt B. Matt has been talking about the annual "Taste of Cheraw" festival for years ... an evening where the townsfolk dress up and come out for a good time with lots of great food and fun and laughter (and, for the heart of the bible belt, a surprising amount of liquor. :-)).

When I first heard of it, I joked with Matt, "So, how many dark folk will there be, and will I be allowed in the front entrance?" Yes, it was a largely white gathering -- hardly unexpected given the social dynamics of the contemporary South. But still, it certainly was a blast ... I told Matt that I would be introduced as "The Maharajah of Bandarpur, come here on official business ... to take all your jobs away!" It did evoke some laughter. And one sad conversation with a lady who'd lost her job recently as the textile industry in the United States goes through it's final death throes.

At one point we were sitting down and gorging ourselves silly on a plateful of sauteed oysters and scallops (catered by his parents, who were working the event), and we both go, "You know, this is just like a scene out of the 'Midnight of the Garden of Good and Evil." "Yes, genteel Southern society. Everyone being oh so nice and polite. But you know they've got secrets. And I can't wait for the evening to progress and that nice facade to dissolve in the flowing alcohol revealing the ugly truth below!" Ouch! A bit vicious. You know, in that Southern way when one says the most ugly thing about someone and follow it with "well just bless his heart" and it's all ok!

And then at times I felt this was the best setting for a Flannery O'Connor novel.

The evening didn't progress to a debauched, revelatory ending. But yes, after several oyster shooters, a nice warm glow permeated the air, as the music (performed by a live band from Florence [SC]) revved up, folks took to the dance floor (yes, shagging away. It's the state dance, y'all!), and the beer, wine and mixed drinks just flowed.

Boy, I'm gonna miss the South!

Here's some photos from the trip.

There's Matt obligingly filling up air in my tire, at the Hot Spot in Camden on Hwy 1.

One of the oldest houses in Cheraw (and it's full of beautiful, historic Southern homes). The Taste was on the lawns of this house (and a few adjoining ones).

Mmm, mmm mmm! Love the Palmetto too (even if it's cut off in the photo!)

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Wednesday, April 19, 2006

The Resurrection: a mutation ...

Caught this fascinating bit at Whispers.
If we may borrow the language of the theory of evolution, [the Resurrection] is the greatest "mutation", absolutely the most crucial leap into a totally new dimension that there has ever been in the long history of life and its development: a leap into a completely new order which does concern us, and concerns the whole of history.
A mutation? Gasp! Horrors! Which heretic is this? Oh ... it's the Pope ... Gosh. As I will never get tired of saying, he ROCKS!

And, holy crud! Go read that homily!

Habemus Papam! One year later ...

Amy has a beautiful post reflecting on this past year. This is what I wrote in the comments over there:
Oh a year already! Amy -- that was beautifully put and right on. I remember the day clearly ... I was at a meeting with area church workers. "It must be Ratzinger, if they've decided so early!" I said as the meeting was inerrupted with the announcement that there was white smoke. And as soon as Cardinal Medina Estevez said "Dominum Iosephum" I gave out a whoop of joy. The rest wailed like banshees. I was also on the phone with some of the students at the campus ministry, who had all clustered around a TV set. Most of them had never heard of Ratzinger ... but they were overjoyed at being Catholic, of being part of the Church at this historic moment. It was surreal. Those two reactions are etched in my mind. The groans of the mid-level church workers I was with and the enthusiastic joy of the college kids. A little vignette that illustrates, to me at least, so clearly where the Church has been, and where she is going, God willing.

As to this past year? I'm thrilled. And I've been reading everything he says and writes in a way I never did think of doing with his beloved predecessor.
Against the Grain brings a roundup of his Holy Week and Easter stuff. And American Papist links to a roundup of stories at Ignatius Insight (including John Allen in the NCR)
Hence in the immediate aftermath of his election, most commentators fell back upon tried-and-true labels: “archconservative,” “authoritarian,” “hard-line.”

Probably the best expression of this came in an editorial cartoon in L’Unità, the newspaper of the old Communist Party in Italy. Understanding the cartoon requires a bit of background. In Italy, perhaps the most revered pope of modern times is John XXIII, know as il papa buono, “the good pope.” One treasured memory of John XXIII is an evening in October 1962, the opening of the Second Vatican Council, when the Catholic Action movement organized a torchlight parade that finished in St. Peter’s Square. The pope was not scheduled to address the crowd, but when it arrived, John XXIII wanted to speak. He said something burned into the consciousness of most Italians, repeated endlessly on television and radio. Smiling down on the crowd, he said: Tornando a casa, troverete i bambini. Date una carezza ai vostri bambini e dite: questa è la carezza del Papa. It means, “When you go home, you’ll find your children. Give them a kiss, and tell them that this kiss comes from the pope.” It summed up the legendary love of the man.

Thus the L’Unità cartoon showed Benedict XVI at the same window, saying, “Tonight, when you go home, I want you to give your children a spanking, and tell them that this spanking comes from the pope.”

It perfectly crystallized the expectations many had of this allegedly draconian, Darth Vader figure. Many people expected that if Ratzinger were elected on a Tuesday, by Wednesday priests would be saying Mass in Latin with their backs to the people, and one would hear a great flushing sound across the Catholic world as all the dissidents and liberals were washed out of the system.

The most striking thing about Benedict’s first year, therefore, is how relatively little of this sort of thing we’ve seen.
Read on!

No human is illegal

Borrowing this directly from Don Jim. Some more thoughts from him (with great links to follow).
A number of you have been upset by the graphic in the last post, with the motto, "No human is illegal." To get at what I mean by that, and what I presume the artist means by that, ask yourself what we mean when we say that something is illegal. Then ask yourself what it means to apply that adjective to a human being.
[As an aside: I wish the Government of Mexico would shut up at times. I mean, yes, of course it needs to considers the needs of its nationals in the US. But what hypocrisy! Look at how they treat undocmented immigrants ... clean up your own backyard! (Incidentally, when Googling this, I found this stuff quoted mainly in right wing blogs and websites, all of which had the implication -- "they're horrible themselves, we should do this to the illegals here. Which, of course, just confirms for me that a lot of this is just people wanting to be nasty. I would think the implication is the exact opposite: yes, shut up, hypocrites. But be proud that we don't behave like that!]

:: update:: Go read Bishop Baker's Good Friday homily which focuses on immigration :: (thanks to St. Eliz in the comments below for pointing this out!)

Black and Catholic in the South

Been meaning to blog on this new release from Paulist Press: Black and Catholic in the Jim Crow South: The stuff that makes community by Danny Duncan Collum, a native Mississippian. Saw it in the last catalog from the press, and read the great article on in the last issue of Glenmary Challenge. Haven't read the book (isn't one's "too read" list always longer than the limitations of space and, especially, time? :)) yet. But the Glenmary article was an eyeopener.
For most of Mississippi’s history, there have been more Catholics than Baptists living in the city of Natchez, making it the center of Catholicism in a decidedly Protestant state.

It seems appropriate, then, for a Catholic church located in that city to have been the center of the African-American freedom movement. In its 100-plus-year history, Holy Family Catholic Church, the oldest African-American Catholic parish in Mississippi and one of the oldest in the country, has served as a “beacon to the community,” according to parishioner Ora Frazier.

Frazier, and over 40 other members of this Catholic community, tell the story of their parish and its role in the 1960s civil rights movement in the recently released Black and Catholic in the Jim Crow South (Paulist Press). The book, written by Mississippi native Danny Duncan Collum, is based on oral interviews conducted in 1994 by Glenmary Father Tim Murphy.

This book grows out of a project initiated in the 1980s by the Glenmary Research Center and the Josephite Fathers and Brothers, whose priests have staffed the parish throughout its history. The book aims, through the stories and words of Holy Family parishioners, “to leave the reader with some sense of what it was like to be a double minority—black and Catholic—in the 20th-century South,” says Duncan Collum. “And to provide a clearer picture of the testimony the Catholic Church offered during the age of Jim Crow.”
Given the generally small number of Catholics in the South, one doesn't hear much about the role of the Church in the civil rights struggle. In our own diocese, one hears the tales of Bishop Patrick Lynch, who defended slave ownership and was sent to the Vatican as a representative of the Confederacy by Jefferson Davis, and then Bishop Ernie Unterkoeffler, and his courageous role in the desegregation of SC schools. But that's really it. Or, rather, that's really the limit of my knowledge. So, yes, this looks like a great read!

[Ugh! While googling for Bishop Patrick N. Lynch I came across this page. Talk about Catholic apologists for the old south! Another article on there? The Daughters of Seton in the war for Southern independence! Woah! And it's a religious congregation? Then there's this piece at the SSPX website. (rolls eyes)]. As to the Church and slavery? It's quite complicated. And disturbing at times. I'll blog on that at some point. Maybe.

And speaking of the Bible ...

... here's one that I would really like to get! It's a new edition of the Revised Standard Edition CE by Ignatius, incoroprating the guidelines of Liturgiam Authenticam [I recall the uproar when LA came out, -- predictable reactions on each "side" -- and never quite understood why it was felt necessary that the Nova Vulgata be the standard for all modern Catholic translations. But I really didn't pay that much attention to the details, and frankly, I haven't read LA in years].

Many thanks to Michael Dubruiel -- the only author I have in Amazon's cool Plog feature. This is what he wrote that showed up on my Plog: [yep, that's a variant of "plug" I guess!]
Speaking of Ignatius Press, they have just released one of the most beautiful Bibles done in recent years, with the production of their newly revised Catholic edition of the Revised Standard Version. This version is not the "New" Revised Standard Version, but neither is it the "Old" Revised Standard Version, but rather a new version of the RSV that is in conformity with Liturgiam Authenticum (a Vatican document on accurate translations for use in the Mass). One of the principle qualities of this new Bible is that the "thee's and thou's" are gone from the translation of the Psalms. I bought the beautiful leather cover version, which on Amazon is a steal at $25.00 (check out the retail price). When I received it and handled it in my hands, I couldn't believe that was all I paid for it. Besides the beautiful leather cover with gold stampted iconography of the Jesus Pantocrater and the Four Gospels, the text is printed on non-glare paper, nice line letting and it opens nicely in the palm of your hand.
I'm sold.

How to read the Bible ...

... according to Pope Benedict. The following were off-the-cuff remarks he made to a group of young pilgrims before Palm Sunday. This is from Sandro Magister's wonderful blog. Apparently, Benedict loves this stuff. Definitely go read the whole thing, including his comments on mathematics!

Hard to believe that it's exactly a year since he was elected! Happy Anniversary, dear Papa Bene! Ad multos annos!

First of all, it must be said that Holy Scripture cannot be read like just any historical book, as we read, for example, Homer, Ovid, or Horace. We must read it as truly the Word of God, placing ourselves in conversation with God. We must pray first, and talk to the Lord: “Open the door for me.” St. Augustine says this frequently in his homilies: “I knocked at the door of the Word in order to find at last what the Lord wanted to say to me.” [...]

A second point is this: Sacred Scripture brings us into communion with the family of God. So we cannot read Sacred Scripture on our own. Of course, it is always important to read the Bible in a very personal way, in a personal conversation with God, but at the same time it is important to read it in the company of persons who are on the journey with us. We must let ourselves be aided by the great masters of “lectio divina.” We have, for example, many wonderful books by cardinal Martini, a true master of “lectio divina,” which help us to enter into the living world of Sacred Scripture. [...]

A third point: if it is important to read Sacred Scripture with the help of teachers and in the company of our friends, our companions on the way, it is particularly important to read it in the great company of the pilgrim People of God, the Church. Sacred Scripture has two subjects. In the first place, there is the divine subject: it is God who is speaking. But God wanted to involve man in his Word. While the Muslims are convinced that the Qur’an was inspired by God word for word, we believe that one of the characteristics of Sacred Scripture – as the theologians put it – is “synergy,” God’s collaboration with man. He involves his People in his word, and thus the second subject – as I have said, God is the first subject – is human. The authors are individual, but there is the continuity of a permanent subject: the People of God that walks with the Word of God and is in conversation with God. In listening to God, one learns to listen to the Word of God, and also to interpret it. And thus the Word of God becomes present, because individual persons die, but the vital subject, the People of God, is always alive, and remains the same down through the ages: it is always the same living subject in which the Word lives.

This also explains many of the structures in Sacred Scripture, especially the so-called “rereading.” An ancient text is represented in another book, let’s say a hundred years later, and then there is a profound understanding of what had previously been inscrutable, even though it had been contained in the earlier text. Then it is reread again some time later, and new aspects are understood, other dimensions of the Word. And so, in this ongoing rereading and rewriting in the context of a profound continuity, while the time of expectation wore on, Sacred Scripture grew. Finally, with the coming of Christ and the experience of the apostles the Word was made definitive, so that there can be no more rewritings, although our understanding always must be deepened. The Lord has said: “The Holy Spirit will bring you into depths that you cannot bear now.” [...]

I think that we must learn these three elements: reading in personal conversation with the Lord; reading in the company of instructors who have the experience of the faith; reading in the great company of the Church, in whose liturgy these events continuously become present anew, such that we gradually enter more and more into Sacred Scripture, in which God really speaks to us today.
[Note the contrast with the Islamic understanding of the Quran. And appreciating the human authorship would imply an approbation, albeit a limited one, of the historical-critical method. But note too, just how that is not the only thing one does when it comes to reading Scripture! Especially not with the spirit of debunking that animates so much secular biblical scholarship! [This reminded me of an article I read a while back, from the Christian Century, by the (Protestant) Biblical scholar Dr. Richard Hays of Duke: Salvation by trust? Reading the Bible faithfully. That article, along with Luke Johnson's wonderful little book "The Real Jesus" were what really helped me put this whole "higher criticism" thinkg in a better context.]

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

God or the Girl

[:: note :: review of the finale at the top of the blog]

I must admit, I approached this A&E series with a lot of apprehension. A&E, a major cable network, dabbling in a reality show that tries to document guys as they discern the priesthood? And the hoaky title? Anyway, CNS had a good report on it, as did Amy. I missed it on Easter night (too busy recovering from Holy Week :-)), but saw that there was a rerun Monday evening. So, I ended up watching it with two students (one at least, who's pretty serious about the priesthood himself).

And we were hooked. We ended up watching the 4 episodes that aired today (5-8 pm and 9-11 pm), catching pizza in between at the Idiot, leaving the finale for Sunday night.

First the hoaky stuff: the title. Choosing a girl (i.e. marriage) is choosing against God? Puh-lease! [We kept saying that as we watched!] And yes, the reality-TV style "interviews" were mildly annoying (however, didn't seem to distract too much ... maybe one just got used to them! Which is scary in of itself.). Yes, there's the whole over-dramatization of "the decision of a lifetime?" (As one of the critics reminded us: the decision to choose the priesthood is hardly a final one. The discernment is ultimately the Church's -- through the formation team, seminary, and ultimately the ordaining Bishop's. Seminary is the next step in discernment, and can be, from what I hear, pretty intense ... there's not any guarantee that anyone going in will come out with chrism on their hands! I think at one point one priest says, very simply and clearly --- "well, you don't ever know 100%! Take it one day at a time! "). And several times --- "well, they have TV cameras there. How weird must that be!" (such as when asking for the help of strangers for an act of mercy, or riding a bus in Guatemala)

All that said, I must really commend A&E for doing a superlative job. For one, the Catholic faith is taken seriously, as the lived reality at the center of these four guys' lives. There's no attempt to try and explain anything away, no cynical skepticism, no patronizing. The heart of the faith -- the struggle for holiness, to conquer sin, to listen to God's voice in a world that screams of everything but God, is presented in a very straightforward, almost matter-of-fact manner that doesn't seem at all freakish.

That's probably what I liked best -- the guys all come across as, well, normal. Yes, they're religious, deeply religious. But that's hardly that unusual at a college campus in the United States. Even though what they're doing is, from one perspective, quite radical. And they do stuff that would freak the more secular outt -- pray at abortion clinics and strip clubs, carry an 80lb cross twenty two miles over three days, and what not. Hardly normal stuff. But it doesn't seem unreasonable, or freakish.

And the series seems to take the whole process of discernment, of prayer, of listening, of the confusion, of the conflict, seriously, without getting bogged down in it.

I wasn't too impressed by two of the three priests on the show so far (more on the third below). One is so manipulative that all of us were going, "what? Did he say that?" and "no friggin' way!" Quite aghast. The other says something so weird that I thought I hadn't heard correctly. "I ask you in obedience to let us help you carry that cross." In obedience? The guys are lay Catholics -- not in a religious order!

I wonder if A&E asked each of them to do something a bit radical. One carries the cross. Actually, while seeming a little weird at first, one buys it. Mortification of the flesh to hear clearly the voice of God. One goes on a pilgrimage of over 160 miles, with no money or credit cards, relying only on the kindness of strangers. One travels to do missionary work in Guatemala.

There's interesting and powerful evangelical encounters -- receiving help from strangers, conversations with evangelical Christians (one a former Catholic, one who very simply says that the guys are sincere but on the path of error since the Catholic Church teaches error).

One intensely powerful moment for me was when Steve, one of the guys (who'd given up an 80K corporate job to work as a college missionary), is in Guatemala, visiting a missionary priest who lives with the poor. The priest is simply amazing! Well, for one, he's from India. Speaks with a thick South Indian accent too. Left home and family to work with the people in Guatemala. He exudes calmness and compassion, faith and love. And Steve is so clearly touched by the Spirit. "If I am lucky, God will let me be a priest" he says, in tears, at the end of his visit.

Fr. Jorge also says this, "All I can give is my life." I got chills. That's really the only thing that we can give God. Not just priests. Each of us. And that's what He thirsts for so much!

Early on we were placing bets on the guys --- however, each of them quite clearly seems to go through a spiritual transformation, and deepens his relationship with God, right there on TV. That Hollywood could treat religion with such simple acceptance, with no strings attached, is in of itself a small miracle.

Finally, I am quite impressed by each of the guys -- that they would bare their souls on TV, in front of millions of people in a way that just doesn't come across as egocentric, takes tremendous courage. Their love for God and for His Church is quite palpable as well.

The guys I were seeing this with were quite psyched themselves. Already AIM has been buzzing about the show -- we'll get a group together to see the finale next Sunday evening. One wants to start a Catholic frat (like the one shown in the series -- Fort Zion at OSU) right here!

A couple of postscripts:
--- I do wish that A&E will do a follow up in a couple of years. How that would work at seminary if any of the guys do enter seminary, I'm not sure. It would be neat though.
--- Again, the agenda of an earlier generation -- matters of internal church reform (celibacy, sexuality, women priests) simply doesn't surface. At all. In fact, if it did, it would just seem rather out of place. Yes, all of these could be considered "conservative" Catholics. But, generally speaking, Catholics who live their faith in this way -- regular prayer, Scripture study, living with other guys who make a temporary commitment not to date, at college in an intentional community --- I would submit, would be considered "conservative" from some perspectives. But hardly caricatures. Yes, there is traditional piety (I was reminded of Matthew Likona and Colleen Carroll). But not what some expect and label "fundamentalism." Unless simply loving the Church is to be denigrated with that pejorative.


Monday, April 17, 2006

Christos anesti!

Alithos anesti!

Happy Easter y'all!

Regina coeli laetare, alleluia!
Quia quem meruisti portare, alleluia!
Ressurexit sicut dixit, alleluia!
Ora pro nobis Deum, alleluia!

Queen of Heaven rejoice, alleluia:
For He whom you merited to bear, alleluia,
Has risen as He said, alleluia.
Pray for us to God, alleluia.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Holy Saturday: With Christ in the Tomb

(Coptic icon of the burial of Christ. I really don't recall where I got this image from!)

The Lord's descent into the underworld
Something strange is happening – there is a great silence on earth today, a great silence and stillness. The whole earth keeps silence because the King is asleep. The earth trembled and is still because God has fallen asleep in the flesh and he has raised up all who have slept ever since the world began. God has died in the flesh and hell trembles with fear.
He has gone to search for our first parent, as for a lost sheep. Greatly desiring to visit those who live in darkness and in the shadow of death, he has gone to free from sorrow the captives Adam and Eve, he who is both God and the son of Eve. The Lord approached them bearing the cross, the weapon that had won him the victory. At the sight of him Adam, the first man he had created, struck his breast in terror and cried out to everyone: “My Lord be with you all”. Christ answered him: “And with your spirit”. He took him by the hand and raised him up, saying: “Awake, O sleeper, and rise from the dead, and Christ will give you light”.
I am your God, who for your sake have become your son. Out of love for you and for your descendants I now by my own authority command all who are held in bondage to come forth, all who are in darkness to be enlightened, all who are sleeping to arise. I order you, O sleeper, to awake. I did not create you to be held a prisoner in hell. Rise from the dead, for I am the life of the dead. Rise up, work of my hands, you who were created in my image. Rise, let us leave this place, for you are in me and I am in you; together we form only one person and we cannot be separated. For your sake I, your God, became your son; I, the Lord, took the form of a slave; I, whose home is above the heavens, descended to the earth and beneath the earth. For your sake, for the sake of man, I became like a man without help, free among the dead. For the sake of you, who left a garden, I was betrayed to the Jews in a garden, and I was crucified in a garden.
See on my face the spittle I received in order to restore to you the life I once breathed into you. See there the marks of the blows I received in order to refashion your warped nature in my image. On my back see the marks of the scourging I endured to remove the burden of sin that weighs upon your back. See my hands, nailed firmly to a tree, for you who once wickedly stretched out your hand to a tree.
I slept on the cross and a sword pierced my side for you who slept in paradise and brought forth Eve from your side. My side has healed the pain in yours. My sleep will rouse you from your sleep in hell. The sword that pierced me has sheathed the sword that was turned against you.
Rise, let us leave this place. The enemy led you out of the earthly paradise. I will not restore you to that paradise, but I will enthrone you in heaven. I forbade you the tree that was only a symbol of life, but see, I who am life itself am now one with you. I appointed cherubim to guard you as slaves are guarded, but now I make them worship you as God. The throne formed by cherubim awaits you, its bearers swift and eager. The bridal chamber is adorned, the banquet is ready, the eternal dwelling places are prepared, the treasure houses of all good things lie open. The kingdom of heaven has been prepared for you from all eternity.
(From an ancient homily for Holy Saturday. From today's Office of Readings)

Friday, April 14, 2006

Kommt ihr Töchter hilft mir klagen ...

Growing up, my dad always played Bach's St. Matthew's Passion on Good Friday. Of course, Good Friday is a busy day at the parish (I absolutely love the Chapel of Repose. Somehow, having the Blessed Sacrament there forces me to quiet down and pray, in a way being right next to the regular chapel every day doesn't!); however, the CD has been playing in the car ... it's one of my favorite pieces of music.

O kommt ihr Töchter hilft mir klagen
Sehet -- wen?
den Brãutigam
Sehet -- wie?
als wie ein Lamm!

O come ye daughters, share my mourning
See ye -- whom?
the Bridegroom
See ye -- how?
just like a lamb!

Listen. (mp3 link)


One of my favorite arias is "Erbarme dich mein Gott."

Erbarme dich,
Mein Gott, um meiner Zähren willen!
Schaue hier,
Herz und Auge weint vor dir

Have mercy Lord
my God, because of this my weeping!
Look thou here,
Heart and eyes now weep for thee

A blessed Triduum to all.

Two blasts rock Delhi's Jama Masjid

Oh Lord! Two blasts rock Delhi's Jama Masjid No deaths reported, thank God. Seems like some folks are trying real hard to get sectarian tensions to explode ...

The Dream of the Rood ...

... translated for the first time into modern English over at Pontifications. A great meditation for Good Friday.

Read the Scriptures. Have a personal relationship with Christ!

This is what being a "friend of Christ" entails, according to the Pope, in his homily at the Chrism Mass at St. Peter's yesterday.
Friendship means to share in thinking and willing. We must exercise ourselves in this communion of thought with Jesus, St. Paul tells us in the Letter to the Philippians (cf. 2:2-5). And this communion of thought is not just something intellectual, but is a sharing of sentiments and will and therefore also of action.

This means that we must know Jesus in an ever more personal way, listening to him, living together with him, spending time with him. To listen to him -- in "lectio divina," that is, in reading Holy Scripture not in an academic but in a spiritual way; thus we learn to encounter Jesus who is present and speaks to us. We should reason and reflect on his words and on his action before him and with him.

The reading of sacred Scripture is prayer, it must be prayer -- it must emerge from prayer and lead to prayer. The evangelists tell us that the Lord repeatedly -- for entire nights -- withdrew to the mountain to pray alone. We also have need of this "mountain": It is the interior height we must scale, the mountain of prayer. Only in this way is friendship developed. Only in this way can we carry out our priestly service, only in this way can we take Christ and his Gospel to men. Simple activism may even be heroic. But external action, in the end, remains without fruit and loses effectiveness, if it is not born from a profound intimate communion with Christ.
[Translation from Zenit]

While directly addressing priests, I seriously doubt the Holy Father would hold that this kind of "friendship with Christ" is only for the ordained!

Perhaps most powerfully for me, he closed with the words of Fr. Andrea Santoro, the Italian priest murdered in Turkey during the cartoon hysteria.
I would like to end this homily with a word of Andres Santoro, the priest of the Diocese of Rome who was killed in Trebisonda while he was praying; Cardinal Cé communicated it to us during the Spiritual Exercises. The word says: "I am here to dwell in the midst of these people and allow Jesus to do so presenting my flesh. ... One becomes capable of salvation only by offering one's own flesh. The evil of the world is borne and pain is shared, absorbing it in the end in one's own flesh as Jesus did." Jesus assumed our flesh. Let us give him ours, so that in this way he can come into the world and transform it. Amen!