Posts Tagged ‘Blessed John Paul II’

Seamus Heaney’s Last Words Were JPII’s First — Be Not Afraid

Monday, September 2nd, 2013

The reported last words of Nobel Prize-winning poet Seamus Heaney were the same as the first words of Blessed John Paul II when he assumed the Papacy — Be Not Afraid.

Nice story in the Guardian on Mr. Heaney’s funeral and his son’s statement about the impact of Heaney’s “Noli Timere.”

© Copyright 2013, Albert J. Schorsch, III
All Rights Reserved

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Prelude to a Just and Merciful Society

Sunday, April 7th, 2013

The problem of sustaining not only the continuing existence of human society but also of a just human society has challenged both dreamers and those who consider themselves realists.

This second group, so-called and sometimes self-appointed realists, is comprised to a great degree also of dreamers who happen to be unaware about essential skills and knowledge they themselves and society in general do not possess which may apply to the very problems they propose to solve.

The present paradox of achieving social justice involves theoreticians and political actors who think political power can directly achieve justice, when power, exerted over time to sustain continuous human systems instead more likely forms institutions and therefore bureaucracies which, sometimes very usefully, slow the effects of power and sometimes stop power dead in its tracks, for the principal reason that the power-wielders very often lack the foresight, knowledge, and skills to properly construct and lead the institutions and bureaucracies. This is another manifestation of what I (not originally) call the political illusion, an illusion that assumes that political power can in an of itself solve human problems over the long term.

Political power, since it must be sustained in one way or another–even in a dictatorship–by the consent of at least an elite in the population, tends to turn long-term capital assets, principally buildings, infrastructure, and institutions, into short-term political assets, and thus to exhaust the potential of these assets to sustain a just society.

Political power-seeking is thus the very enemy of sustainabilty, because sustainability properly treats long-term assets as long term assets, while political action generally doesn’t.

The phenomenon of the serial ribbon-cutting politician who immediately loots a new project for the next round of supposed innovations elsewhere in an endless and decaying series of unsustainable promises is only but one example. In general, few public projects are established with the supply chain of resources to sustain themselves over time, since politicians tap cash from all sources for their next series of promises or for their next inevitable crisis.

Political infrastructure thus differs from real infrastructure the way a Wild West movie set, composed of facades, differs from a real town. Self-styled political realists to a great degree dwell in the Wild West movie set version of reality, which is useful for media photo-ops but not for when it rains.

To build an unsustained, unsustainable public institution may one day be considered a crime. Some day, we will view unsustained public housing, public hospitals, public schools, and public infrastructure as public acts of injustice.

Community and political movements nevertheless often try to build institutions that may outlast themselves, schools and places of employment being a common example.

But theorists, writers, and activists too often, if not always, lack the practical skills of institutional organization, know little of what Peter Drucker called the liberal art of management, and know even less of the practices of continuous organizational improvement, many of these based upon science and engineering, so their institutional innovations become like many others, mired in their own bureaucratic processes and procedures. This predicament leads to diminishing returns and to an endless series of unrealized bright ideas, and eventually, inertia or cataclysm.

Of the many challenges facing our global society in its history, one foundational challenge remains: how to feed, clothe, shelter, heal, and transport each other within a variable natural system subject to weather, accident, and disaster.

Upon this shifting foundation, the even more shifting patterns of human demography manifest themselves. And if there are not enough healthy people, questions of economic growth and social progress become moot.

While this outline may seem elementary, political activists often forget that a community is built upon a population that in the end depends on nature, and that the effective distribution of resources within this sphere depends as much, if not more, upon accumulated knowledge of science and engineering, as especially applied in contemporary agriculture, as it does upon politics. Informed, competent action thus comes into play.

Political power can, for a time, seem to defy the forces of natural, demographic, or economic “weather” or “gravity,” but inevitably these fundamental forces break through, and negate the effects of political power, because political power cannot direct weather or the force of gravity.

The initial economy, literally the translation of the original word, is the human household, predominantly composed as the family when a male and a female bond for life. From natural resources and human demography grow culture (religion, folkways, arts and letters, leisure, etc.) and economic activity, upon culture and economy grow institutions and organizations with their accompanying communications, science and engineering, public health, law, and politics.

None of these cumulative societal actions could exist without continuous human mastery of the necessary skills and knowledge leading to effective action, be that action successfully producing a crop, a road, an automobile, or a classroom of literate students.

None of these cumulative forms of organization could endure without the various methods that society has learned to hedge and to insure, and therefore immunize itself, against natural disasters and failures of crops, production, supply, and of public health.

And none of these activities could continue without the establishment of basic forms of trust throughout society, which ensures communication, continuity, and freedom of innovation. Religion, the arts, leisure activities, and other manifestations of culture play a key binding role in the establishment of common human references, and thereby trust.

Human mercy plays an even more critical role in sustaining human trust. The mercy of a U.S. Grant, inspired by Lincoln’s “with malice toward none,” on a Robert E. Lee and his soldiers spared a nation from guerrilla warfare, and thereby saved it.

The integration and advancement of human society in all of these fields of endeavor could also not exist without the accumulating and exchanging nature of the city, and its meeting places and crossroads of transformation and regeneration, whether these be houses of worship, theaters, studios, or ultimately universities, which bring together and sustain science, engineering, agriculture, arts and letters, law, medicine, and all the other disciplines of human mastery that fan out and populate families, businesses, schools, hospitals, labs, farms, mines, and all forms of active human enterprise.

Human society is thus composed of many interacting and composite goods, but it is fundamentally grounded upon natural resources subject to variability manifested by growth, decay, change, and disaster.

These processes of variability and especially decay echo throughout every human system, and must be thoroughly understood and mastered within each human context for a just and sustainable society to thrive. The mastery of the processes of variability and of decay is fundamental to human competence.

The political illusion lives as if nature or demography or economy would never break through and undermine societal stability, but inevitably they do. The political illusion is not so much devoted to progress as to the self-perpetuating of a given elite, in coalition with trailing elites. The political illusion claims to be about the many, but in the end, it is almost always about the few.

The principal political and economic theories of the past two hundred years, be they Marxist or capitalist, have represented wishfully dangerous and destructive short-cuts to human progress by promising their own particular leap over the practical challenges inherent in managing land, labor, and capital resources in putatively just and fair ways.

These short-cuts, framed as political ideologies, have subsumed art, religion, science, and culture into their domain as mere cheering sections, and have thereby weakened and corrupted these as independent, useful, and also transcendent societal assets. These political ideologies have killed millions upon millions of human beings, and in the end, have merely established flawed institutions and bureaucracies that to this day remain un-mastered, uninformed, inefficient, and ineffective.

Bureaucracy, in spite of itself, plays a useful role, as well. Bureaucracy manages critical information and resources, and accumulates, implements, and moderates law and regulation. Bureaucracy is therefore necessary for human survival, and is a principal pattern seen in mediating institutions.

But bureaucracy is also where everyone’s pet idea for reform goes to die. Politicians continue to give bureaucracy its (usually unfunded) mandate, and then they, who often manufactured bureaucracy in the first place, are reduced to haphazardly bullying it since nothing else, from their perspective, appears to work.

The problem of the 21st century is therefore, pace W.E.B. DuBois, not so much the color line, but un-mastered bureaucracy, and in general, lack of mastery of our own work and professional activities. Or to put it bluntly, the problem of the 21st century is our own incompetence.

It is therefore not progressives and not capitalists, but incompetent progressives and incompetent capitalists, who are the enemies of human progress.

None of us, from the digger of ditches to the President of the United States, really comes to their job well prepared to do it. We have met the incompetents, and they are we.

To build a just society, I therefore propose that we do not carry the discussion forward at this point from the point of view solely of political economy, which can come later, but to begin considering the dignity and capability of each human person, which for a Catholic like myself is usually the starting point.

Not only must each human person have the capacity to be good (meaning, morally good) for society to be good, as the mythical traveler Raphael Hythloday stated in Thomas More’s Utopia, but each human person must be informed and skilled enough to effectively do good.

Yet another virtue is needed. Each of these good and competent persons must have what Alexandr Solzhenitsyn called “civic courage,” the willingness to speak out when something wasn’t right. Without civic courage, our knowledge of what could be improved would be lost, and our society would also not be free.

Recently, when Cuban human rights blogger Yoani Sánchez was challenged by someone who pointed to the availability of food, shelter, and health care in Cuba, she didn’t stop to blink. Ms. Sánchez stated that a bird in a cage has such things. Civic courage makes such a discussion, but also a free society, possible.

Finally, each good person must be not only morally good and just, but merciful. The relationship of mercy with justice, one of the most profound contributions of Blessed John Paul II, is often the most overlooked aspect of a just society. [I write these words on 4/7/13, Divine Mercy Sunday. Here’s a reference to Pope Francis’s homily for the day.]

It is to the topics of moral goodness, competence, civic courage, and mercy in a free and just society that I will turn when I next have the chance to continue this essay.

© Copyright 2013, Albert J. Schorsch, III
All Rights Reserved

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Did God Finally Get a Thumbs Up from Roger Ebert? Or Is It the Other Way Around?

Friday, April 5th, 2013

Of the many fine essays that the late Roger Ebert wrote, three have interested me in particular.

The first was his 2013 post How I am a Roman Catholic, written only about a month prior to his death. The second was his 2009 post How I Believe in God. The third was his 2009 extended essay My Name is Roger and I’m an Alcoholic.

In all of these essays, Mr. Ebert refused to commit to belief in God, but he also refused to finalize his view. He as well rejected the label of atheist or agnostic. Despite Mr. Ebert’s lack of belief in God, he stated firmly instead that he was Catholic.

On several occasions, Mr. Ebert would mention how much he learned from his grade school nuns about trying to believe, and about asking God for help to do so. His recollections reminded me of the particularly striking statement by my seventh grade teacher, Sister M. Danile, OSF, then a Rochester Franciscan, who quoted Revelation 3:16 (not John 3:16) to us:

Because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.

Revelation 3:16, New American Bible, USCCB website, accessed 4/5/13

Sr. Danile, who had tough love totally down, was also perhaps, retrospectively, among the most contemplative and deeply loving of my grade school teachers at St. Priscilla School in Chicago. [I have earlier written about my music teacher, Sr. Catherine Cecile Dwerlkotte].

By these words I mean, having been a teacher myself, that I have reflected on Sr. Danile’s pedagogy many a time over the past decades, and have concluded that Sr. Danile could only have said the tough and yet humorous things she said to us–and she said them by design–because she loved us students very deeply and completely and had obviously thought and prayed about what she taught us. I am sure that she spiritually struggled for us. I remember her as a living Beatitude: as pure of heart. Often I pray for her, in thankfulness for her witness.

So one day Sr. Danile made a special point of letting us know that we were put on earth to decide about God, and to commit one way or another. We could not be lukewarm, because Jesus Himself, as meek and gentle as He could be, would spit us out.

What a hard saying! But Sr. Danile specialized in delivering the hard sayings.

Perhaps Roger Ebert did not have the benefit of a Sr. Danile. While on a day to day basis Mr. Ebert did not fail to quickly give movies either a thumbs up or down, until quite near his own end he appeared to keep giving God a thumbs sideways.

Mr. Ebert surprised many by his March, 2013 blog which upheld the rights of a child conceived in rape. This conclusion followed his deep sense of fairness.

His reviews (e.g., Of Gods and Men, For Greater Glory) indicated that he saw Christian martyrdom as a waste. There was something about the sacrificial in Catholicism that challenged him deeply.

Roger Ebert shared very honestly (and simply) that he didn’t believe in God. He tried. He looked up at the stars, and wondered. But he couldn’t commit, at least as of March, 2013.

Mr. Ebert tried to come to terms with God. We should pray for him, and none but God can judge him. All of us depend on God’s mercy.

Like some contemporary Christians, Mr. Ebert apparently had little use for Blessed John Paul II and Benedict XVI, or, more correctly, he only felt an affinity for Blessed John XXIII. In those places where Mr. Ebert very publicly rejected Catholic teaching, and there were several, I do differ with him.

But I have a theory that Roger Ebert didn’t want to give God a thumbs up until he had lived through the whole movie. Like St. Thomas the Apostle, another very visual man, Mr. Ebert may have had to see it all for himself first. This is in keeping with the famous line of St. Paul in I Corinthians 13:12

At present we see indistinctly, as in a mirror, but then face to face. At present I know partially; then I shall know fully, as I am fully known.

I Corinthians 13:12, New American Bible, USCCB website, accessed 4/5/13

St. Thomas Aquinas posited that we have a natural desire for the Beatific Vision, a desire to see God, called by Aquinas the desire for aliqua contemplatio divinorum. [Please see a related in-depth reflection on this natural desire by the Epistole blog here.] Roger Ebert seemed to have this desire. He stated that often he loved the questions.

But Roger Ebert’s statements also came dangerously close to the parodies of diffident believers in C.S. Lewis’s masterful short fantasy, The Great Divorce, each of whom condemned themselves for eternity. Several of Lewis’s parodied spirits thought the decision about God was all about them, and not about them asking God instead to reach out to help them.

Another way of putting C.S. Lewis’s point in The Great Divorce is that we are called to accept that God is our judge, and that we are not God’s judge: more directly, to accept that God is God, and that we are not.

None of us, except his dear family and loved ones, are privy to the final weeks and days of Roger Ebert. None of us will know, unless revealed to us by God, what goes on in another’s soul in the final hour of death. One very nice thing about gradual death is that as our strength goes, so often we come closer to the point of surrender to the Divine. I’ve read that Mr. Ebert’s last gesture was a smile. This seems to be a very consoling sign.

But it also would be just like Roger Ebert to have the surprise, thriller ending. I hope he didn’t cut it too close. I hope that the Devil was not in the side view mirror, for as we all know, objects there are actually closer than they appear.

Sr. Danile taught me years ago that it is God, and not us, who gives the final thumbs up. The very next year, Sr. M. Martin, OSF, exhorted us not to be a “doubting Thomas.” Easier said than done! Lord, help my unbelief. . .

Jesus said to him, “Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.”

John 20:29, New American Bible, USCCB website, access 4/5/13

Some think there is no place in the Roman Catholic Church for those who, like Mr. Ebert, accept the Church in general, but openly do not accept God, or do not accept his or that Church teaching. But we might reflect that the Church is called Holy Mother Church for a reason: this Mother, wed to Christ, holds her arms ever open offering life, love, and salvation.

We, however, must ultimately–and thus for eternity–decide whether to accept the love of the Church and the love of God.

May Roger Ebert’s soul, and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.

© Copyright 2013, Albert J. Schorsch, III
All Rights Reserved

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Mercy and Justice in Personal Mutuality

Saturday, March 9th, 2013

While recuperating from surgery on 3/5/13, I read off and on, in between dozes, from a small pamphlet-sized copy of Blessed John Paul II’s Encyclical Letter Dives in Misericordia, On the Mercy of God.

I wrote earlier about this profoundly revolutionary document, which encapsulates Blessed John Paul II’s Christian response, as it were, to the great destructiveness of the 20th Century, forces of death that threaten to continue unabated into the 21st.

One key theme of Dives in Misericordia is the link between Mercy and Justice, lived out by persons from act by act, in mutual relationship with each other.

My own conclusion: John Paul II’s approach rules out establishing the mechanistic justice of a merely theoretically fair, impersonal political system, which means, translated into concrete terms: the “perfect” bureaucracy. There is no perfectly just system. Whoever tries to establish such a system inevitably establishes some form of imperfect bureaucracy that still depends upon individual acts of human mercy and mutual knowledge to realize justice.

John Paul II’s approach is grounded instead in Christian personalism and mutuality:

An act of merciful love is only really such when we are deeply convinced at the moment that we perform it that we are at the same time receiving mercy from the people who are accepting it from us. If this bilateral and reciprocal quality is absent, our actions are not yet true acts of mercy, nor has there yet been fully completed in us that conversion to which Christ has shown us the way by His words and example, even to the cross, nor are we yet sharing fully in the magnificent source of merciful love that has been revealed to us by Him.

Dives in Misericordia, part VII, number 14

This personal mutuality is one of the unique and specific gifts that Catholic Christians can offer to their neighbors. Personal mutuality is a fundamentally different kind of relating and giving from simply bestowing mercy solely as an act of power.

I’ve included below the entire section of Dives in Misericordia
from which the above excerpt has been drawn:

14. The Church Seeks To Put Mercy into Practice

Jesus Christ taught that man not only receives and experiences the mercy of God, but that he is also called “to practice mercy” towards others: “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.”120 The Church sees in these words a call to action, and she tries to practice mercy. All the beatitudes of the Sermon on the Mount indicate the way of conversion and of reform of life, but the one referring to those who are merciful is particularly eloquent in this regard. Man attains to the merciful love of God, His mercy, to the extent that he himself is interiorly transformed in the spirit of that love towards his neighbor.

This authentically evangelical process is not just a spiritual transformation realized once and for all: it is a whole lifestyle, an essential and continuous characteristic of the Christian vocation. It consists in the constant discovery and persevering practice of love as a unifying and also elevating power despite all difficulties of a psychological or social nature: it is a question, in fact, of a merciful love which, by its essence, is a creative love. In reciprocal relationships between persons merciful love is never a unilateral act or process. Even in the cases in which everything would seem to indicate that only one party is giving and offering, and the other only receiving and taking (for example, in the case of a physician giving treatment, a teacher teaching, parents supporting and bringing up their children, a benefactor helping the needy), in reality the one who gives is always also a beneficiary. In any case, he too can easily find himself in the position of the one who receives, who obtains a benefit, who experiences merciful love; he too can find himself the object of mercy.

In this sense Christ crucified is for us the loftiest model, inspiration and encouragement. When we base ourselves on this disquieting model, we are able with all humility to show mercy to others, knowing that Christ accepts it as if it were shown to Himself.121 On the basis of this model, we must also continually purify all our actions and all our intentions in which mercy is understood and practiced in a unilateral way, as a good done to others. An act of merciful love is only really such when we are deeply convinced at the moment that we perform it that we are at the same time receiving mercy from the people who are accepting it from us. If this bilateral and reciprocal quality is absent, our actions are not yet true acts of mercy, nor has there yet been fully completed in us that conversion to which Christ has shown us the way by His words and example, even to the cross, nor are we yet sharing fully in the magnificent source of merciful love that has been revealed to us by Him.

Thus, the way which Christ showed to us in the Sermon on the Mount with the beatitude regarding those who are merciful is much richer than what we sometimes find in ordinary human opinions about mercy. These opinions see mercy as a unilateral act or process, presupposing and maintaining a certain distance between the one practicing mercy and the one benefitting from it, between the one who does good and the one who receives it. Hence the attempt to free interpersonal and social relationships from mercy and to base them solely on justice. However, such opinions about mercy fail to see the fundamental link between mercy and justice spoken of by the whole biblical tradition, and above all by the messianic mission of Jesus Christ. True mercy is, so to speak, the most profound source of justice. If justice is in itself suitable for “arbitration” between people concerning the reciprocal distribution of objective goods in an equitable manner, love and only love (including that kindly love that we call “mercy”) is capable of restoring man to Himself.

Mercy that is truly Christian is also, in a certain sense, the most perfect incarnation of “equality” between people, and therefore also the most perfect incarnation of justice as well, insofar as justice aims at the same result in its own sphere. However, the equality brought by justice is limited to the realm of objective and extrinsic goods, while love and mercy bring it about that people meet one another in that value which is man himself, with the dignity that is proper to him. At the same time, “equality” of people through “patient and kind” love122 does not take away differences: the person who gives becomes more generous when he feels at the same time benefitted by the person accepting his gift; and vice versa, the person who accepts the gift with the awareness that, in accepting it, he too is doing good is in his own way serving the great cause of the dignity of the person; and this contributes to uniting people in a more profound manner.

Thus, mercy becomes an indispensable element for shaping mutual relationships between people, in a spirit of deepest respect for what is human, and in a spirit of mutual brotherhood. It is impossible to establish this bond between people, if they wish to regulate their mutual relationships solely according to the measure of justice. In every sphere of interpersonal relationships justice must, so to speak, be “corrected ” to a considerable extent by that love which, as St. Paul proclaims, “is patient and kind” or, in other words, possesses the characteristics of that merciful love which is so much of the essence of the Gospel and Christianity. Let us remember, furthermore, that merciful love also means the cordial tenderness and sensitivity so eloquently spoken of in the parable of the prodigal son,123 and also in the parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin.124 Consequently, merciful love is supremely indispensable between those who are closest to one another: between husbands and wives, between parents and children, between friends; and it is indispensable in education and in pastoral work.

Its sphere of action, however, is not limited to this. If Paul VI more than once indicated the civilization of love”125 as the goal towards which all efforts in the cultural and social fields as well as in the economic and political fields should tend. it must be added that this good will never be reached if in our thinking and acting concerning the vast and complex spheres of human society we stop at the criterion of “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth”126 and do not try to transform it in its essence, by complementing it with another spirit. Certainly, the Second Vatican Council also leads us in this direction, when it speaks repeatedly of the need to make the world more human,127 and says that the realization of this task is precisely the mission of the Church in the modern world. Society can become ever more human only if we introduce into the many-sided setting of interpersonal and social relationships, not merely justice, but also that “merciful love” which constitutes the messianic message of the Gospel.

Society can become “ever more human” only when we introduce into all the mutual relationships which form its moral aspect the moment of forgiveness, which is so much of the essence of the Gospel. Forgiveness demonstrates the presence in the world of the love which is more powerful than sin. Forgiveness is also the fundamental condition for reconciliation, not only in the relationship of God with man, but also in relationships between people. A world from which forgiveness was eliminated would be nothing but a world of cold and unfeeling justice, in the name of which each person would claim his or her own rights vis-a- vis others; the various kinds of selfishness latent in man would transform life and human society into a system of oppression of the weak by the strong, or into an arena of permanent strife between one group and another.

For this reason, the Church must consider it one of her principal duties-at every stage of history and especially in our modern age-to proclaim and to introduce into life the mystery of mercy, supremely revealed in Jesus Christ. Not only for the Church herself as the community of believers but also in a certain sense for all humanity, this mystery is the source of a life different from the life which can be built by man, who is exposed to the oppressive forces of the threefold concupiscence active within him.128 It is precisely in the name of this mystery that Christ teaches us to forgive always. How often we repeat the words of the prayer which He Himself taught us, asking “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us,” which means those who are guilty of something in our regard129 It is indeed difficult to express the profound value of the attitude which these words describe and inculcate. How many things these words say to every individual about others and also about himself. The consciousness of being trespassers against each other goes hand in hand with the call to fraternal solidarity, which St. Paul expressed in his concise exhortation to “forbear one another in love.”130 What a lesson of humility is to be found here with regard to man, with regard both to one’s neighbor and to oneself What a school of good will for daily living, in the various conditions of our existence If we were to ignore this lesson, what would remain of any “humanist” program of life and education?

Christ emphasizes so insistently the need to forgive others that when Peter asked Him how many times he should forgive his neighbor He answered with the symbolic number of “seventy times seven,”131 meaning that he must be able to forgive everyone every time. It is obvious that such a generous requirement of forgiveness does not cancel out the objective requirements of justice. Properly understood, justice constitutes, so to speak, the goal of forgiveness. In no passage of the Gospel message does forgiveness, or mercy as its source, mean indulgence towards evil, towards scandals, towards injury or insult. In any case, reparation for evil and scandal, compensation for injury, and satisfaction for insult are conditions for forgiveness.

Thus the fundamental structure of justice always enters into the sphere of mercy. Mercy, however, has the power to confer on justice a new content, which is expressed most simply and fully in forgiveness. Forgiveness, in fact, shows that, over and above the process of “compensation” and “truce” which is specific to justice, love is necessary, so that man may affirm himself as man. Fulfillment of the conditions of justice is especially indispensable in order that love may reveal its own nature. In analyzing the parable of the prodigal son, we have already called attention to the fact that he who forgives and he who is forgiven encounter one another at an essential point, namely the dignity or essential value of the person, a point which cannot be lost and the affirmation of which, or its rediscovery, is a source of the greatest joy.132

The Church rightly considers it her duty and the purpose of her mission to guard the authenticity of forgiveness, both in life and behavior and in educational and pastoral work. She protects it simply by guarding its source, which is the mystery of the mercy of God Himself as revealed in Jesus Christ.

The basis of the Church’s mission, in all the spheres spoken of in the numerous pronouncements of the most recent Council and in the centuries-old experience of the apostolate, is none other than “drawing from the wells of the Savior”133 this is what provides many guidelines for the mission of the Church in the lives of individual Christians, of individual communities, and also of the whole People of God. This “drawing from the wells of the Savior” can be done only in the spirit of that poverty to which we are called by the words and example of the Lord: “You received without pay, give without pay.”134 Thus, in all the ways of the Church’s life and ministry-through the evangelical poverty of her-ministers and stewards and of the whole people which bears witness to “the mighty works” of its Lord-the God who is “rich in mercy” has been made still more clearly manifest.

Dives in Misericordia, part VII, number 14

The above passage gives us an entirely different way, following Christ’s example, to understand the question of justice in society, and helps us to realize that there is no simply political or governmental (therefore, bureaucratic) solution for the question of social justice without personal acts of mutual mercy and especially of forgiveness.

My conclusions:

* A socially just society is thus a merciful society, one in which all persons can stand in positions of personal and mutual mercy to one another. This “mutual mercy” measure of social justice requires a fundamental transformation in human relations, and should give naive true-believers in any given political / bureaucratic solution to social justice a cause to pause and reflect. Or at least one would hope.

* Political true-believers inevitably, and inescapably, establish in the end bureaucracies which do not bend even to their own political power. Indeed, their own political power merely makes such bureaucratic systems proliferate.

* It is precisely at this point confronting the frozen contradiction of politics, which is the inevitable reduction of political action to mere bureaucracy–the unmasking of what I call the “political illusion”–that Catholic Christians speak to the “real world” of human affairs, since only mutual personal mercy and forgiveness in the end bring justice into action. It is at this moment of “political illusion” that merciful Christian love touches, at least for a time, the world of common sense.

Some of these same great themes of Blessed John Paul II’s Dives in Misericordia were carried forward in Benedict XVI’s Caritas in Veritate. Both are “required reading” for Catholic Christians considering the question of social justice.

© Copyright 2013, Albert J. Schorsch, III
All Rights Reserved

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Illusions of the Family: the Street Gang and the Marauding Clan

Wednesday, November 28th, 2012

Contrary to popular cultural debates, the greatest threat to the traditional family is not the child-raising same-sex household, which forms an infinitesimal, teeny, tiny sliver of a 1% segment of USA and world households, but the street gang, which claims tens of thousands of members in each major developed city.

There are more gang members in some individual major US urban regions than there are same-sex parents in the entire USA.

The claim that a street gang is a family is what I call The Gang Illusion.

In free societies, the Gang Illusion is arguably the greatest everyday danger to not only “The Family” as a concept or institution, but to the health, safety, and welfare of the greatest number of individuals and actual families.

The Big Lie of the Gang Illusion is that the gang is a family. This lie is fundamental to the coherence of the gang, which in other respects usually progresses from origins in mutual defense to a drug-selling, extortion, war-making, and/or vice enterprise.

Mutual aid, mutual defense, lifetime commitment, loyalty, intimate knowledge, and kinship are cited by gangs to appeal to similarity with a family. These appeals are especially persuasive to those whose real families are broken, or who have no family, or who are intimidated by fear of the gang into joining it.

Those who have no loving home are falsely drawn by the promised support of the “homies,” but many who do have loving homes also migrate to gangs for reasons including fear, identity, personal loyalty, adrenaline thrills, and ambition.

Having a father and a mother does not in itself guarantee a religious, Christian, or Catholic family, nor does simple adherence to religious ritual. The mythical Corleone family of The Godfather fame also had a paterfamilias and a materfamilias to an extended family. The Sacraments of the Catholic Church were ruthlessly appropriated into the Corleone gang rubric in a particularly blasphemous way, depicted in the famous scene where the baby was baptized with continual cutaways to assassination.

The mythical Corleones and the real gang-bangers of today, while perhaps meeting the Wikipedia definition of “consanguinity, affinity, or co-residence” do not represent true families as understood
by Catholic teaching
.

Nor should street gangs be represented as families under the law. But as long as developed societies continue to expand in law the definition of family beyond the natural law definition that begins with man-woman-child as the family’s foundation, not only will polygamous relationships gain family status, but also will street gang and other clan-like social structures gain, if not increased legal status, greatly increased social power.

By driving natural man-woman-child families from the legal marketplace, we will merely further empower the unregulated off-market violent gang and marauding clan. (I include the marauding clan in this analysis to link the analysis to developing societies).

Displacing the natural man-woman-child family is not effective, enduring, or stable social change, but merely another extension of the temporary Gresham’s Law phenomenon into the social structure, with violent gangs and clans filling the void.

Avant-garde legalists never cease to follow the 18th century French thinker Rousseau:

“He who dares to undertake the making of people’s laws ought to feel himself capable of changing human nature.”

Jean-Jacques Rousseau, The Social Contract and Discourses, NY, Dutton, 1973, pg. 194

Such hubris in reshaping and expanding the definition of the family by law will have an inevitable effect, not in the multiplication of same-sex parenting households, which are limited by the relatively small number of same-sex couples in society, but in the strengthening of violent clan-like structures like the street gang, which can grow exponentially as other more fundamental social structures decline.

The weakening of the natural man-woman-child family is a social problem primarily because it strengthens the street gang. We already have ample social evidence of this, and have not yet learned the lesson.

Perhaps we have been so entertained and distracted by false apocalypses on television and film, zombie and otherwise, that we do not see the true extent of human suffering caused by the violent gang or marauding clan which is ever around us.

The Rousseau-inspired social and legal engineers will continue to tinker away and redefine the family as they might. These elite social and legal engineers will never admit to their mistake, and will instead characteristically call for more and more radical measures along the same line, since for them “It is all about” their god-like powers to shape others. They will think that gangs grow solely because of lack of jobs and housing policy mishaps, and not family-saving policy disasters.

As this elite grows more and more radical, their numbers will shrink out of sheer public common sense, embarrassment, and other more pressing interests. This process may take the greater part of a century.

But in a sense, the actions of these elite social and legal engineers are irrelevant to the actual present human predicament: For millions worldwide, whether in the Americas, in Asia, in Europe, or in Africa, the family has been redefined as a some form of violent street gang or marauding clan.

In the end, as it was in the beginning, it will be up to pious non-violent religious believers to rebuild the natural man-woman-child family. To do this they will have to leap away from the tangle of every rejected revolutionary ideal since Rousseau and his forebears that has stumbled to its feet in a moaning, static chorus from across the Internet.

(Ideas do matter. And the Internet has exploded the ideas of past centuries across present humanity like clustered shrapnel.)

Those who attempt to change human nature, in this case the natural man-woman-child family, will in the end only unveil another manifestation of human nature, the violent and marauding gang or clan.

Those who wish to subdue the non-violent natural family will continue to unleash the Wolf in humanity, the homo homini lupus. So history is about to repeat itself again: Elite social and legal engineers are about to make Freud’s Civilization and Its Discontents once again relevant. I’m just about to dust my copy off.

While our governments shift massive political capital to redefine the family, they generally ignore the street gang and the marauding clan which are problems world-wide for portions of the population much, much larger than the infinitesimal, teeny, tiny sliver of 1% of the population for which they are willing to expend political capital.

Perhaps our governments have realized that the much larger problem of street gangs and marauding clans are beyond their reach, and they must politically survive by pleasing coalitions of tinier and tinier constituencies.

So I suggest that natural man-woman-child families and their friends turn off the fake apocalypse shows and movies and watch the real violence on the news, and reflect on the origins of this violence.

Then, with some of the extra time gained, begin reading Blessed John Paul II’s Familiaris Consortio.

I return again to Matthew 19:4-6:

He said in reply, “Have you not read that from the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female’ and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, no human being must separate.”

The Divinely-blessed human union above, the natural man-woman-child family, is the foundation of a non-violent and complementary human society. To the extent that we try to re-invent and replace this family in law and society, we will only in the end further propagate the violent gang and the marauding clan.

© Copyright 2012, Albert J. Schorsch, III
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Knowing God and Neighbor through Mercy

Sunday, April 22nd, 2012

One of the themes of my writings over the years is that much of what passes for writing and work for justice evolves more into “identity maintenance”–“it’s really about us”–than it reflects actual mercy that benefits one’s neighbor–“it’s really about our neighbor.”

This approach of “mercy over identity” poses a number of ethical and intellectual challenges when one really tries to follow it. The personalist focus on the neighbor who is to receive an act of mercy, and upon all persons who receive the mercy of God, must avoid the trap of consequentialism and utilitarianism, which tends to measure each act in terms of the economic or “hedonic” good it may bring another in some measurable material or emotional sense.

As Albert Einstein is reputed to have said, “Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.”

I tried a new approach to reflecting on the meaning of mercy on 2/15/12, which Catholics call Divine Mercy Sunday. I began to re-read Blessed John Paul II’s encyclical Dives in Misericordia, or Rich in Mercy, and to stop and read the Scriptural text behind each footnote.

One the bus or the “L” or during a quiet moment at home over the past week, this experience has led me to something of a profound, self-directed retreat on the meaning of the existence of God and what God’s mercy asks of me. During this time, I also came in a sense to inhabit or connect with the mind and spirit of John Paul II by praying the prayers that he must have prayed while writing this great encyclical.

While many recent controversies about God focus on science and intellectual proofs or disproofs of God’s existence, the very existence of mercy despite all the cruelty and injustice of this world points to God’s love and to God’s existence. In fact, mercy is one of the primary ways that God is revealed to us.

How do we know God? Dives in Misericordia begins with a meditation on John 14:8-18

Philip said to him, “Master, show us the Father, and that will be enough for us.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you for so long a time and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I speak to you I do not speak on my own. The Father who dwells in me is doing his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else, believe because of the works hemselves. Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes in me will do the works that I do, and will do greater ones than these, because I am going to the Father. And whatever you ask in my name, I will do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask anything of me in my name, I will do it. “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always, the Spirit of truth, which the world cannot accept, because it neither sees nor knows it. But you know it, because it remains with you, and will be in you. I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you. (John 14:8-18)

In the end, while we can come to the fact of God’s existence through reason, we can come to the very knowledge of God through Jesus. And we can come to know Jesus through His mercy–the mercy he calls us to live out.

I highly recommend that you spend a lot of time with Dives in Misericordia, and the texts of its citations. This experience is taking me to something wonderful that I cannot describe. Each act of mercy I attempt has taken on new meaning, and has called and challenged me to act more mercifully in every possible way that I can.

© Copyright 2012, Albert J. Schorsch, III
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Time for a New Translation of “Reponsible Parenthood” in Humanae Vitae?

Monday, February 20th, 2012

The HHS mandate on sterilization, abortifacients, and birth control, and the strong reaction of the U.S. Catholic bishops, has challenged many Catholics to examine whether they agree with the bishops. This controversy has become for many a moment of grace, and many Catholics have been reexamining whether they can commit to accepting and defending Church teaching on life, birth control, and abortion.

Catholic progressives who support access to abortion and artificial contraception are caught in a hard place, because of the growing unanimity among not only the bishops themselves, but pastors and other persons heading Church institutions that such pro-abortion or pro-choice positions are difficult to recognize as authentically Catholic.

Some prominent Catholics who would have previously given “cover” to pro-choice politicians have ceased doing so. Some progressive pastors, who could always be relied upon to wink and nod to pro-choice and artificially contracepting Catholics, have stopped doing so, and some such pastors have even openly spoken out against abortion for the first time in their priesthood. These pastors themselves have had to wrestle with reading aloud their bishop’s letter on the HHS mandate. Very few have refused to do so. How can I read this letter, they may ask themselves, and continue to remain on the fence? Those pastors who have refused to read or publish their bishop’s letter or the U.S. Catholic Bishops’ bulletin insert have now been forced to reveal their position publicly.

It is therefore becoming much harder with any credibility to claim that one can support Planned Parenthood or the anti-life positions taken by Planned Parenthood and remain authentically Catholic in any sense of the word.

Not only is this a moment of grace for some, but it is also a moment of decision. This moment of decision has led some Catholics to revisit official Church teaching, with the question, Can I accept what the Church teaches?

When some Catholics begin to reexamine the pro-life and anti-abortion, anti-artificial birth control teaching in the 1968 papal encyclical, Humanae Vitae, they immediately face a problem: the translation is dated, in that the meaning of certain English words in the encyclical have already shifted in meaning since 1968, principally the word “responsible,” as in the encyclical’s phrase, “responsible parenthood.”

“Responsible parenthood” unfortunately today almost evokes “Planned Parenthood,” and also now may carry with it environmental overtones following the mistaken but popular fears against overpopulating the planet.

Like any translation, dimensions of the language of the official Latin text of Humanae Vitae are not completely conveyed by the 1968 English translation.

The noted Australian philosopher, legal scholar, Oxford and Notre Dame Professor John M. Finnis in recent years has thus worked on a new translation of Humanae Vitae, as mentioned in this scholarly article and in this talk.

Here is a link for videos of Prof. Finnis’s talk at Notre Dame University’s Center for Ethics and Culture in 2008, along with a related talk by moral philosopher Prof. Janet E. Smith on “conscious parenthood.

The earliest English translations of Humanae Vitae translate “paternitas conscia” in its section ten as “responsible parenthood,” despite the fact that such a translation is not listed in many Latin dictionaries. Roy J. Defarrari’s Latin-English Dictionary of St. Thomas Aquinas translates “conscius” as “knowing or conscious of something with another” taking the genitive, with a second meaning of “knowing something in oneself,” taking the word sibi. Neither usage quite matches the Latin of Humanae Vitae.

The Latin word “conscius” is rich in meaning. It could mean knowing together as if in a conspiracy. It could also mean shared knowing as in shared intimacy, or in shared consciousness. The meaning may be closer to “intimate knowledge.” While a fuller translation of “paternitas conscia” might be cast as “conscious parenthood” or “intentional parenthood” rather than “responsible parenthood,” much work remains to be done to effectively translate and convey the full richness of the meaning. What is missing in the “responsible parenthood” translation is the mutual and intimate knowledge shared by the married couple, evocative of the Old Testament meaning of knowledge, meaning an act of knowing including sexual intimacy.

The Rev. Know-It-All and I discussed this point on a Go Ask Your Father radio segment on 2/15/12. He reflected upon a possible vocational meaning in the “conscia” of number 10 in Humanae Vitae.

Why is all this attention to the translation of a single word so important? Because meanings unfold from the translation of a single word.

The Church appears to lack good, commonsense arguments in favor of its teaching against artificial contraception. But by focusing on “paternitas conscia” as shared, intimate self knowledge flowing from the sacramental meaning of marriage itself, a powerful revelation of both the meaning and responsibility of marriage can unfold.

By the way, Prof. Finnis made a very important point in his Notre Dame talk of 2008 that the noted legal scholar John Noonan completely misunderstood St. Thomas Aquinas on the meaning of faith in his 1965 book, Contraception: A History of Its Treatment by the Catholic Theologians and Canonists, which was very influential in how Humanae Vitae was originally received in 1968.

Perhaps the title of Blessed John Paul II’s book Love and Responsibility, comes as close as any to more fully translating “paternitas conscia,” implying a knowing and intimate sharing of the responsibilities of the vocation chosen through the Sacrament of Marriage.

© Copyright 2012, Albert J. Schorsch, III
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How to Disagree with an Icon: On Rejoicing in Being Persecuted While Defending the Innocent

Sunday, February 5th, 2012

How does a pro-life believer best publicly disagree with President Obama, who possesses iconic cultural and political status?

And how best does a believing and active Catholic Christian respond to anti-Catholic persecution and anti-Catholic injustice in public life?

As Bill Clinton used to say, I’ll first consider the second question, then respond to the first one.

Defending Life while Rejoicing at Being Persecuted

On the one hand, our Blessed Lord taught us to turn the other cheek (Matthew 5:39) and to rejoice when we are persecuted (Matthew 5:10-12). On the other hand, Scripture calls upon us to respect and defend the rights of the widow, the orphan, and the alien (Exodus 22:21-23; Leviticus 19:33-34; Deuteronomy 24:17-18), and the Catechism of the Catholic Church urges us to disarm the aggressor (CCC 2265).

Herein I propose that the best way to strike a balance on this question is to accept persecution of one’s own person in Christian joy, but to continue to defend in the public square the truth and the rights of others–especially of the innocent, particularly the unborn–as citizens claiming the rights of any citizen and of any human.

About forty years ago, when I was still in college, my late father asked me to consider a similar set of questions. He had received a letter from his old high school teacher, Fr. Virgil Blum, SJ, who was in the process of establishing the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights. My father was thinking about the turn-the-other-cheek / defend-the-innocent-and-the-truth question. I recall at the time coming down myself on the turn-the-other-cheek side, but acknowledging that distortions of truth and unjust attacks against individuals needed to be publicly refuted. We agreed then that the Catholic League was worth supporting, and my Dad became one of Fr. Blum’s early backers in this effort.

Christians and Catholics are today openly persecuted in a “red” or bloody manner in many Asian, Middle Eastern, and African countries, and in a mostly “white” or un-bloody manner at this time in Europe, the Americas, and Australia. In the United States, which brought with it the legacy of British anti-Catholicism, Catholics had a long climb up to open public acceptance until John F. Kennedy was elected President in 1960. U.S. Catholics bore a special burden in proving that they could be both truly Catholic and truly American. This struggle is reflected in many ways in American Catholic church and school architecture of the early part of the 20th Century, which blend both American and Catholic themes.

St. Bartholomew Catholic Church, Chicago, 1917; Source: non-copyrighted parish website; fair use invoked

Films such as The Fighting 69th (1940), starring James Cagney and Pat O’Brien, showed how Catholics were willing to fight for America.

from Wikipedia, fair use invoked

The HHS Rule Controversy

But in the past few weeks, Catholics in the U.S. have begun to face perhaps the most significant church-state conflict in over a century.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) confirmed a rule on 1/20/12 that almost all private health care plans must cover sterilization, abortifacients, and contraception effective August 1, 2012. According to the NCHLA website, “Non-profit religious employers that do not now provide such coverage, and are not exempt under the rule’s extremely narrow definition of religious employer, will be given one year—until August 1, 2013—to comply.”

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, with Cardinal-designate Timothy Dolan of New York acting as spokesman, has published a number of responses on their website, calling for Catholics and people of good will to urge Congress and the President to take specific actions to respect religious freedom, such as supporting the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act (H.R. 1179, S. 1467).

Besides writing Congress, other politicians, and the President, and voting one’s conscience, what other actions are appropriate for believers?

Certainly, violent actions are forbidden and are dreadfully self-defeating. Such extreme action is not only immoral in itself, but would discredit religious believers and the pro-life cause. Only the deranged or an agent provocateur would suggest violence in this case. History has shown, especially in the case of the Gunpowder Plot of 1605, that contemplating extreme or violent action can activate an even more direct persecution, and marginalize religious believers for centuries. Catholics were only able, by the Catholic Relief Act of 1829, to regain their right to religious freedom in England more than two hundred years after the Gunpowder Plot. The British monarch is still forbidden to join the Catholic Church.

Extreme rhetoric in response to the HHS rules is also not appropriate, and will in the long run prove ineffective. Appeals to constitutional, Biblical, and universal human rights on behalf of others, these others being the unborn and those believing taxpayers morally objecting to pay for sterilization and abortifacients, promise to be the most effective.

But mere words are not enough. Politicians can and in some cases must be voted out of office over this issue peacefully through the constitutionally-established electoral process.

There is also the question whether the honors and courtesies usually granted to certain politicians, such as appearances speaking to students and faculties, should be given. This is not yet the time for any across the board end to these practices, but each case should be carefully reconsidered. But this is also not the time for Catholic institutions to shower politicians, labor, and business leaders who support abortion rights with awards and knighthoods.

A Failure as Men

This HHS challenge faces the Catholic Church in America at a time when, weakened by the priest abuse scandals, it lacks unobstructed access to the public square without every message from the Church being confounded and scrambled by the scandal.

A few comments on the clergy scandal are therefore apt, because present communication from the Catholic Church is heard in light of it, and little effective communication is possible without addressing it. In a powerful sense, a Catholic bishop’s public words have the priest abuse scandal static humming behind them.

Recently, I have begun to think of the failure of certain bishops and clergy as responders to the priest abuse scandal in a different way: The failure of these bishops and priests was not only a failure of church “headship,” but a “natural law” failure in the traditional male role as the defender of children. Certain bishops and clergy have failed in the priest abuse crisis in a manly sense, as men, in their paternal role. This failure brought into question not only the integrity of ineffective bishops and clergy, but their very manhood.

Because certain bishops and clergy appeared to fail as men in this natural law sense, they have in a very visceral way especially lost the confidence of many women who still value the male as defender. Four decades of political correctness have not wiped out this traditional expectation for the male. Many Catholic men who value this expectation are likewise sickened by this failure.

This loss of confidence in certain bishops and leading clergy is of Biblical proportions. I recall Professor Scott Hahn’s theory of Adam as the failed husband for his silence in not defending his family when Satan came to tempt in Genesis 3. Prof. Hahn assigned great significance to the silence of Adam in this passage.

Weakened by the clergy scandals, our Catholic Church “headship” is therefore in need of redemption in a theological sense, which we believe is a grace given by Christ. The redemption in the social sense will take many years, and depends on the repenting actions of the clergy and of all believers. The episcopacy must understand the depth of their failure in not just the hearts but in the guts of the faithful. I cannot stress more emphatically that this redemptive action includes bishops and clergy reaffirming and in a sense reestablishing their own Christian manhood.

In the mean time, Catholics must effectively communicate as citizens against violations of human and religious freedom, and in particular against the HHS rule in question. This effectiveness of communication depends on the individual acts of millions of believers in contact with their own government officials despite the constant static of the clergy scandals. We should not be deterred by scandal into allowing serious violations of human rights and religious freedom.

It is fortunate that Cardinal (effective mid-February, 2012) Timothy Dolan serves as the spokesman for the U.S. Catholic Bishops in this instance. Despite continual attempts to smear him, his integrity and forthrightness continue to shine through. I do not doubt that there will be aggressive efforts to discredit him going forward. Cardinal Dolan is the right man to stand before the faithful both on the question of episcopal redemption and on defending the unborn and the consciences of those who recognize the rights of these holy innocents. Please see his 1/25/12 Wall Street Journal article.

The bishops’ strong stance on the defense of innocent life is not only redemptive in a theological sense, but in a natural law, manly sense. They are restoring their manhood by acting as the defenders of the innocent, and provide a stunning contrast with the unmanly compromises of business, labor, and government leaders who somewhere along the line decided that they would betray themselves on the defense of innocent life, perhaps, as the old saying goes, to be “happy” in this world rather than “right.” The bishops are seen by many critics in their strong pro-life stand as being on the wrong side of history, when they in fact are on the right side of eternity.

Since potentially millions of pro-life citizens may in one way or another speak to the HHS rule controversy, below I offer some background information on some of the social and political forces at work, which I hope will be helpful for these pro-life citizens as they communicate with their government representatives.

Toward Disagreement with an Icon

Barack Obama is not only the President of the U.S., but commands additional power as a cultural icon.

Many, not only social progressives but also the young, see President Obama as the standard-bearer for movements for human and civil rights, whose election vindicated their lifelong efforts. The Grant Park, Chicago celebration of the President’s election on November 4, 2008 was for many the high point of their lives.

Pro-life believers see this same President as the most radical pro-choice politician ever to hold high office, who would not support a proposed Illinois law providing medical care for infants who survived abortion.

The U.S. Catholic population reflects this divergence of views, and the success of President Obama’s agenda has depended on his ability to in a real sense divide and conquer the U.S. Catholic population on the question of life. He has taken great pains, most recently in his speech at the 2/2/12 National Prayer Breakfast, to establish how a believing Christian can support his own pro-choice policies, with some skirting of the direct question on whether a believer can support abortion rights.

Many socially progressive Catholics agree with the President, but their position has become much more difficult to reconcile with Catholic teachings. Whether by accident or by design, the President’s actions have begun to tear apart the recurrent claim that one can be both a social progressive–if that includes abortion rights–and a faithful Catholic.

While Benedict XVI forcefully linked life ethics and social ethics in his encyclical Caritas in Veritate, many progressive Catholics have operated since the 1960s as if this link was not necessary. The President has now brought through the HHS Rule a firm decision on this matter to the doorstep of Christians in general, but to socially progressive Catholics in particular.

But First a Bit of History

Since President Obama arose politically from Chicago, I offer some history on what led to this turning point:

Chicago, the historic home of the Haymarket Affair and thereby the partial inspiration for May Day as an International Workers Day, has a long and varied tradition of progressive and radical political activism.

From the Haymarket martyrs, to Chicago and Illinois labor pioneers, to the intellectual progressives and philosophical pragmatists such as John Dewey and Jane Addams, to the Lakefront Liberals and community activists of today in the tradition of Chicago’s Saul Alinsky, to the violent anti-war protests and later education reforms of Bill Ayers, an amalgam of progressive ideas and traditions has firmly established itself within specific layers of Chicago culture. Over the 20th Century the progressive Chicago panacea of choice shifted from eugenics to abortion.

But despite the “brief, shining” progressive moment of the Harold Washington mayoral administration, 1983-1987, almost every institution established by the Chicago progressive reformers, from the pioneering Juvenile Court system and Chicago Park District to the Cook County Hospital to even the Chicago Public Schools, became a fiefdom within Chicago machine politics. The Chicago progressives, despite periodic vociferous protestations sometimes descending into sullen resignation, and despite the earnest shadow-government machinations of Chicago foundations and civic organizations, have likewise ultimately enabled the “Chicago Way” of one-party machine politics to rule Chicago for decades. Barack Obama himself prior to his presidency endorsed an inept Cook County Board president who had to be forced from office for incompetence. Chicago progressive history is thus comprised of recurrent vainglorious visions that continually evaporate into politics as usual.

Chicago also evidences a distinct tradition of activist Catholicism with likewise early roots prior to Leo XIII‘s encyclical Rerum Novarum. Chicago Catholic Action, with mentors like Msgr. Reynold Hillenbrand, erupted during its heyday of the 1930s, 40s, and 50s into either “Specialized Catholic Action Movements” in the European Jocist tradition such as the Young Christian Workers, the Christian Family Movement, and the Young Christian Students, or into the separately-founded and imported Catholic Worker, Friendship House, or into the parallel and more institutional youth and labor-oriented efforts of Chicago Auxiliary Bishop Bernard Sheil, including the Sheil School of Social Studies (1943-1954), and the Chicago Labor Alliance, the latter led by former Catholic Worker and Loyola University educator Ed Marciniak. Later Chicago Catholic activist organizations, such as the Association of Chicago Priests, the Eighth Day Center for Justice, and allied activist non-sectarian organizations (but heavily supported with Catholic dollars) the Industrial Areas Foundation, United Power for Action and Justice, and several others, drew upon these Chicago Catholic activist traditions.

These two Chicago activist traditions, the progressive and the activist Catholic, have complexly intersected both in terms of social networks and in terms of ideas since the late 1800s, especially in labor, politics, philanthropy, neighborhood life, higher education, civic leadership, and clergy politics. Catholic organizations have generously funded community organizing in Chicago since the 1930s, including the work of a young community organizer named Barack Obama in the 1980s, whose move to the U.S. presidency echoed Chicago’s potent blend of strong-arm, one party rule with a progressive patina. By this Catholic-funded work, Mr. Obama earned his status as an “honorary Catholic” among religious Chicago progressives.

The traditions of Chicago progressivism and Catholic activism meet, if not merge, in another significant way, in their descent into pragmatism, not of the philosophical variety, but of the political and economic. The style of leadership among some of the elites of political Chicago and religious Chicago is therefore sometimes indistinguishable, and appears established along the categories of political power and money power alone. From time to time, one might find within Chicago church circles a brash, confrontational approach to action, including not-so-subtle forms of blackmail and intimidation, similar to what one might encounter in Chicago politics. As we say, “It’s a tough town.”

Since the time of the 1960s Kennedy-era “New Breed” Chicago Catholics, activity between Catholic and progressive activists represented itself in a number of free-flowing and permeable relationships. Catholic activists, and especially inner-city Catholic pastors and religious, have had strong standing in neighborhood and civic affairs.

Numerous neighborhood, community and economic development, professional, and civic organizations have been founded in the Chicago area in recent decades with the backing of Catholic talent and resources. In tandem with the growth of these organizations, a number of leading Chicago Catholic clergy, following the lead of Hillenbrand protege Msgr. John J. Egan, have strategically oriented their civic efforts into an interfaith and intentionally secular dimension, in order to broaden the base of support, participation, and power. This strategy, which heavily relied on coalition-building across a wide spectrum of organizations, coincided with the end of the influence of Catholic Action organizations as such, while still paradoxically relying on money donated from Catholic parishes and the Archdiocese of Chicago as a whole to sustain the bulk of these efforts.

The Catholic Campaign for Human Development, originally founded as the Campaign for Human Development in 1970 by the U.S. Catholic Bishops, but with significant impetus from Chicago Catholic clergy and in particular Chicago Auxiliary Bishop Michael R. P. Dempsey (1918–1974), who served as co-founder and first national director of what later came to be called CCHD, has served, among other things, to extend the Chicago style of Catholic community and development activism nationally. In an important way, the CCHD has institutionalized the pattern laid down by the original requests by Chicago Auxiliary Bishop Bernard Sheil and later Msgr. John J. Egan to Cardinal Samuel Stritch to fund Saul Alinsky’s community organizing with Archdiocesan funds.

These traditions of secular and Catholic progressivism overlapped most dramatically when a Chicago diocesan priest, Rev. Carl Lezak (1937-2009), served as head of the Illinois ACLU from July, 1971, until he resigned September, 1972.

The late Fr. Lezak’s clericalization of civic action was only one of several such incidents in Chicago history, a usurpation of the lay role against which Msgr. Reynold Hillenbrand, unheeded, warned his protegees in the clergy. A number of these clerical interventions prevented the development of a lay reform tradition independent of one-party rule. Progressive Catholics therefore could not envision themselves voting against the dominant party, but would coalesce with almost liturgical devotion around this or that reform candidate for relatively minor office, thus shoring up of one-party, corrupt government in Chicago and Illinois.

The desire to participate in a glorious public jubilee like Chicago’s November 4, 2008 Grant Park celebration is a powerful one, as is the desire to belong to a larger group. Perhaps a desire to belong, an attachment confusing self-image with public interest, has long prevented socially progressive and labor activist Catholics from deserting one-party rule and throwing the rascals out. This attachment has shaped Chicago and Illinois toward one-party, pro-abortion oligopolies.

But there may be another reason for the staying power of one-party rule in Chicago and Illinois, and that may be abortion itself. Minus the abortion rights controversy, many voters would have switched parties long ago over financial mismanagement and public scandals. But the abortion issue has kept the otherwise reform-minded progressives inside the dominant party, thus perpetuating corruption. Abortion is in many ways the glue that holds the Democratic party together in Illinois and beyond.

Progressive Chicago Catholicism has long misunderstood power as originating solely in money and in politics, but has missed, as Blessed John Paul II well and better understood, the power of culture.

Progressive, pro-choice Catholicism has fed off the illusion that life issues can be set aside for the sake of a wider social justice agenda. Progressive Chicago Catholicism has accepted a permeable, non-Aristotelean definition of justice not inclusive of the rights of the vulnerable unborn, but tied to their own self-image as compassionate and just.

It appears that some of these contradictory progressive dreams and politics–and illusions–have been exported by Barack Obama from Chicago to the nation.

The End of the Church as Mediating Institution?

But now Catholics may face a choice between following their President’s health care policies and following their Church. The President promised a “Sensible Conscience Clause” at Notre Dame in 2009 but did not deliver on it. There is therefore no tangible bridge between the pro-life Catholic and Barack Obama’s “fundamental change.”

And equally critically, the important role of the Church as a mediating institution in society, an institution standing between the power and abuses of government and the defenseless, the very institutional foundation of progressive Catholicism, is being shaken away.

It is at this point an open question whether we will see the state slowly seize all health care away from pro-life charitable institutions, like the Tudor monarchs seized the monasteries, ending their charitable services to thousands who thereby had nowhere to go. If some day the government does seize the health care industry, we can expect that it will manage to combine therein the worst inefficiencies seen in Cook County government.

A strong clue to the intent of the Obama Administration in this HHS case can be found in the final chapter of economist Paul R. Krugman’s The Conscience of a Liberal, in which he urges a coming administration to in very determined fashion continue to lock in progressive reforms so that they can never be undone.


So, How Does One Disagree with an Icon?

First, more traditional Catholics should refrain from shouting “I told you so” to their progressive friends. This is a time for Church unity, not one-upmanship.

Second, the Herod analogy (as slaughterer of the innocents) should not yet be used by Catholics in President Obama’s case. St. John Fisher famously used this analogy regarding marriage with Henry VIII when all else failed, and an enraged Henry VIII lived up to the tagline by treating St. John Fisher as Herod treated Fisher’s namesake St. John the Baptist. All else has not yet failed with President Obama. (Strictly speaking, St. John Fisher had not even used the literal word “Herod” in reference to Henry VIII. Fisher had written in a book defending the marriage of Catherine of Aragon and Henry VIII that he, Fisher, was willing to die like St. John the Baptist defending the authenticity of their marriage. Henry drew the Herod reference himself. Fisher evidently thought and prayed for quite some time about invoking St. John the Baptist. The book he wrote on the royal marriage took him two years, and when the King’s men inventoried St. John Fisher’s possessions after his imprisonment in 1534, they found a replica head of St. John the Baptist on a platter in Fisher’s chapel.)

Third, Catholics should not bemoan any persecution they personally endure for their pro-life beliefs, but bear such persecution, invoking St. Thomas More, merrily.

Fourth, besides writing their legislators and voting their consciences, the very most effective thing pro-life Catholic grown-ups can do to oppose the HHS mandate and the pro-choice agenda is to speak first with their own teen and young adult children. These young adults are the most heavily propagandized generation in human history, regularly hearing from MoveOn.org, Change.org, Rock the Vote, MTV, etc., having hardly ever seen an intact family displayed on television for any length of time, having been carefully led through college’s second and hidden dorm curriculum, and having their own humor and thus thought processes constantly shaped by politicized late-night comedians. The most effective way therefore for pro-life Catholic parents to oppose the pro-choice position is for Catholic parents to personally explain the reasoning behind Catholic pro-life positions first to their own voting children, and then to dialogue with their children about their reaction. Pro-choice politicians absolutely count on the young adult vote, and expect young adults to sit out the HHS controversy. Happily, these young adults are growing more pro-life. Nothing would put pro-choice politicians into a panic more than receiving thousands of e-mails against the HHS mandate from high school and college students and young professionals. Another such panic would ensue if bishops and pastors systematically began to speak personally with high school and college young adult groups against the HHS mandate and enlist such letters on a regular basis.

Fifth, the way to oppose an icon is not to directly attack the icon, but to change the world around the icon so the icon loses its cultural power. This is how the power of culture trumps the power of money and politics. The way to change this world around the icon is to let loose the reasoning behind the pro-life position: the defense of innocent human life. There is no more powerful idea than the defense of the innocent. By unleashing the HHS mandate, the President and HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius may have inadvertently set this very time for the powerful idea of the defense of innocent human life to come.

Six, by focusing on the reason for religious freedom in this HHS case–the defense of innocent human life–as opposed to simply religious freedom and freedom of conscience in and of themselves, defenses of religious freedom and conscience are then grounded on a doubly strong moral basis: they are not just about the person claiming religious freedom and freedom of conscience, but about the purpose and reason freedom is being exercised: the defense of the innocent unborn. This recalls Benedict XVI’s April 17, 2008 Catholic University of America Address statement to Catholic Educators that “Freedom is not an opting out. It is an opting in–a participation in Being itself.” The religious freedom we seek is not freedom from, but freedom for–freedom for the good of another, in this case, for the innocent unborn.

Seventh, I wish Jimmy Cagney were around to drive home the point about the objections pro-life Catholics (whose numbers are growing) are making to President Obama: We are both loyal Catholics and loyal Americans, and are exercising our own rights in legitimate defense of others. But Jimmy Cagney has joined, I pray, the Communion of Saints (he did die on screen at least once to save the Dead End Kids in Angels with Dirty Faces), so we’ll have to make this point ourselves.

This is indeed a moment of moral choice for Catholics and for people of good will. I pray that this moment remains a peaceful one, and is resolved through reason and good will.

—-

Further Reading:

Cardinal Francis George’s 2/5/12 letter for parish bulletins on the HHS ruling.

The 2/6/12 Wall Street Journal article by Robert P. George and O. Carter Snead, Planned Parenthood’s Hostages.

© Copyright 2012, Albert J. Schorsch, III
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Clearing the Name of Blessed Aloysius Stepinac

Friday, November 25th, 2011

Aloysius Viktor Stepinac, 1898-1960, served as archbishop and later Cardinal of Zagreb. The Communist Yugoslav government of Marshal Josip Tito put Archbishop Stepinac on show trial, convicting and imprisoning him on October 11, 1946, for allegedly having collaborated with the previous fascist Ustaše regime and for reputedly engaging in the forced conversion of Serbian Orthodox faithful to Catholicism. The materials selected and also falsified by the Communists prior to Archbishop Stepinac’s trial to divide and conquer Orthodox and Catholic Christians continue to be cited as authoritative by historians and critics of the Cardinal to this day, without significant reference to primary documents.

Controversy over the legacy of Cardinal Stepinac intensified with his beatification by Blessed John Paul II on October 3, 1998. See the 1998 defense of Cardinal Stepinac by the Catholic League for the controversy around the beatification.

This controversy persists. The Military Channel, during the Thanksgiving weekend of November, 2011 reran a 2010 television series on “Nazi Collaborators,” which blasted Cardinal Stepinac in its episode on Croatia, “The Beast of the Balkans,” focusing in part on the convicted war criminal Dinko Šakic.

Legal scholar Ronald J. Rychlak published a critical essay in 2009 debunking the portrayal of Cardinal Stepinac as a war criminal, from which the following statement is excerpted:

In 1946, prior to Stepinac’s trial, the Communist Party had published a book that contained forged and carefully selected and edited documents designed to make Stepinac and the Catholic Church look bad. In the 1960s, Italian writer Carlo Falconi sought permission from the Yugoslav authorities to research Croatian archives for a book that he was writing on Pope Pius XII. Party officials eventually handed over some original documents and provided Falconi with a copy of the 1946 book. Neither Falconi nor the others who came after him knew that the evidence had been carefully manufactured to assure that Stepinac appeared to have been a collaborator of the Ustashi (and that Pius appeared sympathetic to the Nazis). He was not given access to any materials or archives that could contradict the communist-manufactured propaganda. Thus, on the basis of forged and carefully selected documents assembled by the Yugoslav secret police, Falconi wrote his book, The Silence of Pius XII.

Falconi’s book was extremely successful. It shaped much of the early scholarship on Pope Pius XII, and it remains much cited to this day. John Cornwell’s Hitler’s Pope made much use of the materials Falconi had used. In fact, Cornwell cited Falconi by name nine times, and he praised Falconi’s “painstaking” research. Falconi and the works that built upon his book have tainted the entire investigation into Pope Pius XII. As Croatian scholar Jure Kristo has explained: “The documents which both men [Falconi and Cornwell] used had, of course, been assembled by the Yugoslav secret police and fed to Falconi in order to compromise Pope Pius XII as ‘Hitler’s Pope.’” These documents have confounded scholars of Pope Pius XII for decades.

“Cardinal Stepinac, Pope Pius XII, and the Roman Catholic Church During the Second World War,” Ronald J. Rychlak, The Catholic Social Science Review 14 (2009): 367-383

Unfortunately, the Military Channel didn’t get the message, and continues to run an inaccurate episode that maligns a good and holy man, Cardinal Stepinac. Only in a culture that hates religious faith and Catholicism in general could the lies of the 1946 Communist show trial be treated as fact.

For more, here’s a link to “Rev. Know-It-All”‘s 12/7/11 radio discussion with me on Blessed Cardinal Stepinac.

© Copyright 2011, Albert J. Schorsch, III
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Simone Weil in the YOUCAT; Did Weil Help Consign Limbo to the Shadows?

Monday, September 5th, 2011

A Simone Weil quote–

“Prayer is nothing other than attention in its purest form.”

Simone Weil (1909-1943, French political activist, philosopher, and mystic).

–has made it onto page 270 the YOUCAT, the Youth Catechism of the Catholic Church.

This inclusion is not a surprise. Popes from John XXIII forward have been known to have read Simone Weil.

Angelo Roncalli, the future Blessed John XXIII, when posted in Paris from 1944, was so moved by Weil’s writing that he wrote a letter to her mother Selma Weil and told Weil’s friend and contemporary Maurice Schumann that “he loved her soul.” Paul VI named Weil, along with Pascal and Bernanos, as a critical intellectual influence. Blessed John Paul II cited Weil as “a daughter of Israel who fell under the spell of Christ” in a statement to the Franciscans, while Benedict XVI quoted her in an address to artists. Weil appears here and several dozen other places on the Vatican website.

In her Letter to a Priest, Weil aired her revulsion with the notion of Limbo, and could not countenance the idea that innocent infants dying without baptism would be consigned to such a state. It is not unlikely that Weil’s strenuous rejection of Limbo, known to several popes, influenced the Vatican’s 2007 International Theological Commission document, The Hope of Salvation for Infants Who Die Without Being Baptized, written at Benedict XVI’s behest, which entrusted unbaptized infants not to Limbo, but to the infinite mercy of God. Limbo had already been omitted from the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

My seminary friend Ken Trainor, in his 8/31/11 US Catholic website blog, stated:

As far as I know, only one Pope in the history of the Catholic Church ever set anything loose: Pope John XXIII when he called for a Second Vatican Council and threw open the windows of a bound up church in order to “let in a little fresh air.”

But Benedict XVI’s action on pulling the rug out from under the concept of Limbo is definitely such a “loosing” as well, as are the actions of several previous popes to reject heresies that called for spiritual practices that were stricter than Catholicism, such as Donatism and Jansenism.

I’d like to think that Simone Weil had a little bit to do with the Vatican’s stance on Limbo in 2007. It is just like “Romanitas” to take a while to react, sixty-five years after Weil’s Letter to a Priest!

One final note: The late British actor Peter Sellers is also quoted (“The closest thing to a father confessor is probably a bartender”) in the YOUCAT, as are Martin Luther and numerous others. The YOUCAT is a very lively entry into Catholicism.

© Copyright 2011, Albert J. Schorsch, III
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