Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Holy Family

Children of Men was one of those movies for me that did not hang together plot wise but has some extremely powerful scenes. The most powerful one for me comes at the end of the movie, when Clive Owen, the new mother, and her baby move through a ceasefire that is in total silence. The whole way through the movie I thought I saw a lot of Holy Family imagery, but in this scene in particular I felt it was strong. Joseph guides Mary, the woman who should not have conceived, who is carrying the child, here looked upon as the savior of the human race. I have not read J.D. Powers novel, so I do not know if she intended this imagery. It is palpable in this scene, however, as the hideous sound of machine guns that has been going now for quite a while non stop suddenly stops. People stretch out their hands to touch this child, not unlike the women who touches Christ's cloak. They are almost in worship, all alike, as if a monstrance with the blessed sacrament is moving through their midst. One woman can be heard saying "bendito eres." Soldiers kneel and cross themselves as when the Eucharist passes. And Clive Owen, the Joseph figure, not husband, but protector of this women and her child, moves with them. Let me know what you think; I think in honor of the Holy Family, this is a beautiful scene. If you would like to skip a lot of the lead up, you can just start at 6:24 and watch the last three minutes or so.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

Nathan O'Halloran, SJ

Friday, December 12, 2008

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Jews, Muslims, and a Crisis of Love

Mark Shea does a nice job at rejecting hotheaded comments about Muslims that have been swirling in his com box around two articles he has recently written. I'm abstracting some particularly good points. This seems to be a constant problem these days. If Islam - as Benedict said at Regensburg - is facing a crisis of faith and reason, so in response to this crisis, Christianity is facing a crisis of love. Apparently, the "other," in this case the Muslim, has become unlovable after September 11 and now Mumbai.

If non-Trinitarian monotheists called Muslims don't worship God, then neither do non-Trinitarians called Jews. If we try to claim that we should never allow Muslims to pray on Church property because they are not Christian, then Pope Pius XII should never have allowed Jews to celebrate their rites when he was hiding them in the Vatican and in other church properties. No hijab for Muslim kids, but strict adherence to Catholic dress codes? Very well then, no yarmulkes for Jewish kids at Catholic schools. No five minutes set aside for Muslims to say their prayers? Great! Then no time off allowed for High Holy Days for Jewish kids.

But for close to 2,000 years, Jews were largely regarded by the ordinary Catholic as the sinister internal enemies of Christian civilization -- just like Muslims are now seen. Instead of automatically linking all Muslims to the crime of Mumbai, the medieval Catholic mind tended to link all Jews to the crime of the Crucifixion and to numerous episodes of persecution of Christians. And so, Christians periodically forbade their rites as subversive of the Christian civil order, or decided that if they did not convert, it could only be because they basically agreed with the murderers of Jesus that He got what He deserved.

Remember: for most of the Church's history, though Muslims were seen as heretics, Jews were seen as even greater heretics. They were regarded as the first and most impenitent rebels against the revelation of Christ, who were far more gravely guilty of their rebellion than any Muslim could ever be. After all, said the medieval Christian, Christ came to them, they rejected him, and they have gone on rejecting him down to this very day. Indeed, (the logic continues) they aren't our elder brothers all (something Vatican II-resistant Catholics continue to maintain). No, said medievals, they are the original heretics. They are "those who say that they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan" (Rev 2:9). The Church is the real "Israel of God," as St. Paul calls it. So the Fathers considered the Church, grafted onto Old Testament Israel, as the main trunk of revelation and the real continuation of the revelation.

We rightly recoil in horror from this. But for long centuries, Christians took this picture of our relationship with Jews as axiomatic. In comparison, they regarded the poor benighted Mohammedan as a second-class heretic: Since he began as a pagan Arab who had never had the advantages of the Jew, his fall was not seen as anything like so terrible as theirs.

And even in the Middle Ages, Jews were not all quietly suffering degradation without protest. Many made their contempt for Christians and their faith quite clear to their Christian neighbors. And their Christian neighbors responded in exactly the way that many Christians respond today. Only instead of saying, "If you've seen one Mohammedan you seen 'em all," medievals tended to say "If you've seen one Christ-killer, you've seen 'em all."

I recognize no commonality of spirit between the hysteria and frequent contempt for Nostra Aetate, Vatican II, Muslims and Jews that I'm seeing in a lot of the combox commentariat and the generous, thoughtful, and fruitful work being done by Pope Benedict XVI in his dialogue with Muslim leaders. It would well behoove Catholics who are serious about the Church's engagement with Muslims of good will to imitate him, rather than to simply issue sweeping denials that there is any such thing as a Muslim of good will or to heap scorn on Nostra Aetate. The pope is there to teach us. Let's learn from him.

Nathan O'Halloran, SJ

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Liberation Theologies and the Society of Jesus

Fr. Adolfo Nicolas in a recent interview called Liberation Theology "a courageous and creative response to an unbearable situation of injustice in Latin America. As with any theology, it needs years to mature. It’s a shame that it has not been given a vote of confidence and that soon its wings will be cut before it learns to fly. It needs more time.” Before cries of heresy start flying -- what am I saying, they are already flying -- we should remember what Ratzinger wrote as head of the CDF concerning Liberation Theology, both the good and the bad:
This warning should in no way be interpreted as a disavowal of all those who want to respond generously and with an authentic evangelical spirit to the "preferential option for the poor." It should not at all serve as an excuse for those who maintain the attitude of neutrality and indifference in the face of the tragic and pressing problems of human misery and injustice. It is, on the contrary, dictated by the certitude that the serious ideological deviations which it points out tends inevitably to betray the cause of the poor. More than ever, it is important that numerous Christians, whose faith is clear and who are committed to live the Christian life in its fullness, become involved in the struggle for justice, freedom, and human dignity because of their love for their disinherited, oppressed, and persecuted brothers and sisters. More than ever, the Church intends to condemn abuses, injustices, and attacks against freedom, wherever they occur and whoever commits them. She intends to struggle, by her own means, for the defense and advancement of the rights of mankind, especially of the poor.
He begins with warning along with praise. I think many miss that point, and also miss the fact that the "preferential option for the poor" actually comes from Vatican II. I have heard so many tell me that this is a form of Liberation Theology that is unacceptable, yet another tribute to the ignorance about Liberation Theology that flies around. The Church does have an option for the poor, and it is out of this option that Fr. Nicolas speaks about the power of Liberation Theology.

The CDF also later mentions:

The different theologies of liberation are situated between the preferential option for the poor, forcefully reaffirmed without ambiguity after Medellin at the Conference of Puebla on the one hand, and the temptation to reduce the Gospel to an earthly gospel on the other.

We noted above that an authentic theology of liberation will be one which is rooted in the Word of God, correctly interpreted.

But from a descriptive standpoint, it helps to speak of theologies of liberation, since the expression embraces a number of theological positions, or even sometimes ideological ones, which are not simply different but more often incompatible with one another.
Thus, when Fr. Nicolas speaks of the power that Liberation Theology can still have, he affirms that there are many forms of it, sharing different ideological foundations and different understandings of the world. Not all embrace class warfare. Not all are Marxist. Not all think money is evil, nor do all think the hierarchy of the Church is the devil. Not all share a Hegelian vision of the world, nor do they all reject Original Sin as a reality. Many simply point to the reality of structural sin and the ways in which Christ comes to free the poor from these structural hindrances that dominate so many third world nations. Often by making that point, the local Church is also indicted for its conciliation toward the rich and wealthy. This was precisely the problem that Romero dealt in El Salvador. The rich practically owned the Church, while all the while the Church hierarchy claimed to be focusing on its "spiritual" mission.

Therefore, developing a faithful theology of liberation continues to be an important mission of the Society, and it needs to be done by those with a good theological background and also by those who live lives close to the reality of the poor. Father Thomas took his theology straight from the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius. His vision of the world revolved around the Meditation on the Two Standards at the beginning of the Second Week, in which we are told that in the spiritual world, Satan sends out his servants everywhere, "not omitting any provinces, places, states, nor any persons in particular." Precisely. Satan sends his demons not just to persons but also to states, places, corporations, the Senate, the House, everywhere. Hence, liberation begins with prayer followed by concrete actions toward particular structures of sin. This was Ignatius' theology of liberation.

The danger I have found with most liberation theologies is the philosophy of history they embrace, usually complete with an imminent eschaton. It is therefore of the essence that a healthy eschatology remain an central part of any espoused theology of liberation. The Book of Revelation is an excellent example of this. While maintaining a view that all will only be fully healed in the end, it is also a scathing critique of the Roman Empire as a political system, a structure of sin that had to be brought down, not just in the end, but in the now. But now I've gone on too long, so go out and help the poor.

Nathan O'Halloran, SJ

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Stable Hay Mysticism

We start Advent with some deeply disturbing news bombarding us from around the world, assuring us that all is not right. There is too much to report; these are the ones that jump out at me:

1. Wal-Mart employee trampled to death on Long Island as the store was opening. The man, 6 foot 5 inches, 270 lbs, was unable to stand up to the mob of 2000 people who broke down the door at 5am to begin their Christmas shopping. People were reported to be notably irritated when told they had to leave Wal-Mart because someone had died. After all, they hadn't trampled the poor guy!

2. The 101st Airborne Division is returning home as well as others, after having served at least 3 terms of duty in Afghanistan or Iraq. Bases here at home are bracing for severe psychological disorders in at least 1 in 4 soldiers. I remember reading last year some startling reports on veteran suicide rates.

CBS did some studies on veteran suicides, submitting a Freedom of Information Act request to the Department of Defense, asking for the numbers of suicides among all service members for the past 12 years. Between 1995 and 2007, there were almost 2,200 suicides. That’s 188 last year alone. But these numbers included only “active duty” soldiers. They then went to Department of Veterans Affairs where Dr. Ira Katz is head of mental health where they got little information. So asked all 50 states for their suicide data, based on death records, for veterans and non-veterans, dating back to 1995. Forty-five states sent what turned out to be a mountain of information. Some surprising results. In 2005, for example, in just those 45 states, there were at least 6,256 suicides among those who served in the armed forces. That’s 120 each and every week, in just one year.

It found that veterans were more than twice as likely to commit suicide in 2005 than non-vets. (Veterans committed suicide at the rate of between 18.7 to 20.8 per 100,000, compared to other Americans, who did so at the rate of 8.9 per 100,000.)

One age group stood out. Veterans aged 20 through 24, those who have served during the war on terror. They had the highest suicide rate among all veterans, estimated between two and four times higher than civilians the same age. (The suicide rate for non-veterans is 8.3 per 100,000, while the rate for veterans was found to be between 22.9 and 31.9 per 100,000.)

I was appalled to read this, and am worried as men come home to their homes for this Advent and Christmas season. Not only for themselves, but for the pain and difficulty they will no doubt place upon their families as they work through severe mental problems resulting from the "War on Terror."

3. Finally, the El Paso Times reports:
The violence in Juárez continued to rage with at least 10 homicides occurring Friday.
Among the slayings were a triple homicide in the morning, a man gunned down outside a pool hall in the afternoon and a killing at a funeral home in the evening. Shortly before 6 a.m., two unidentified women and a man were shot to death in a PT Cruiser on Rusia street, Chihuahua state police said. At 2:30 p.m., Rodolfo Humberto Martha Jimenez, 27, was shot 13 times in the parking lot of the Pocket's billiards on Avenida de las Torres, police said. There have been more than 1,300 homicides in the Juárez area so far this year, including nearly 30 since Monday.
My parents report that violence continues to rock the city of Juarez, making their ministry to the poor in Mexico these days a rather dangerous affair. The city has been militarized due to the violence between the major drug cartels battling it out now in the streets and street corners of the city.

These three small news blurbs amidst many worse horrors in the world -- for instance, in Mumbai and the Congo -- have been in my thoughts and prayers much as of late. Not just to cast a dismal pall over Advent, but to remind me and all of us of the power of prayer and sacrifice. How much do I actually fast and do acts of mortification? I have realized lately that without an intentional lifestyle of mortification, actual acts of mortification easily slip out of my daily habits. And I'm not talking about scourging yourself or other such severe acts.

I read recently in the latest Casa Juan Diego Catholic Worker an article written by a friend of Dorothy Day. She had confronted him when he had admitted to her that he showered on a regular basis. She then seriously convicted him of Bourgeois middle-class living. We don't often think in those terms, but yes, sitting in front of a TV every night, drinking a beer, showering every morning, such self-indulgent forms of lifestyle are extremely rare in the world, shared by an elite few like many of us living in the United States.

The only problem with being bourgeois middle-class is precisely that so few actually are, never mind those who are of the wealthy class. Jesuits are often mistaken for middle-class businessmen. They dress the same, often act the same. A rather glaring indictment, this points to the casual softness that can creep into any form of Christian life, particularly Religious life, if great care is not taken to keep that insipid evil out. Bourgeois living, if I had to name one, is one of the great evils of Religious life in the United States, and indeed of many who call themselves Catholic, primarily because it is so antithetical to the Personalist message of the gospel, whose entire attention is directed to the least of the brothers who is poor and needy.

Mortification is a Personalist act, directed not against the Body, but against the Person. Many disparage it I think because they miss this important distinction. And Advent is the perfect time to emulate the mortification of the Second Person, who chose to be born in a stable. In this way, those of us who are still alive, healthy, mentally stable, free from the desperate despair of Wal-Mart consumerism or the horrors of war in Iraq can choose voluntarily to fast and mortify our bodies on behalf of our brothers and sisters who suffer from these ailments. If we do these things, we will too find ourselves on Christmas day inhabiting a spiritual stable along with the Second Person, rather than sitting comfortably in the easy chair of many "Christian" lives.

Nathan O'Halloran, SJ

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Cardinal Stafford Right On

On November 13, Cardinal Stafford, the head of the Apostolic Penitentiary, gave an address at Catholic University of America entitled “Being True with Body and Soul,” a phrase he later explains comes from the French Catholic novelist Francois Mauriac. Though some have described the address as being overdone or reactionary, I found it quite profound, and so have decided to take some time to comment on it. By the way, my dad put me onto the talk.

This I suppose will be my return after a little hiatus from blogging. Actually, it wasn’t a planned hiatus. Teaching high school is just a bit time consuming. I figure the new church year is as good a time to start again as any.

Stafford begins: “For 51 years of priestly ministry I have been attentive to res sacra in temporalibus in American culture, i.e., ‘to the element of the sacred in the temporal life of man’ or, in a more Heideggerian idiom, ‘to man as the sacred element in things.’” With that note, Stafford strikes a rather intellectual tone throughout his discourse, moving effortlessly along a wide spectrum of authors. Stafford proposes to cover three areas: First, “the narrow, calculative, mathematical mind and its manipulation of the humanum and, more specifically, of human sexuality since 1968;” Second, the response of the Church in Humane Vitae and later popes; Third, “Other Catholic and theological responses to what John Rawls calls the ‘embedding module’, namely the increasingly disenchanted world in which we work and pray.”

I found most interesting his analysis of the first, possibly because of Stafford’s apparent affinity for Heidegger which I share. He begins by describing the year 1968, the year of “America’s Suicide.” If that was the case, then 2008 is the year of “America’s exhaustion,” and maybe of the rest of the world as well. The reason he gives for this is primarily the pernicious and growing disregard for human life that has precipitously dominated American culture over the past 40 years. He writes:
“Yet honesty compels me to admit that this decision against human life is in historical continuity with the pragmatism on the part of the Fathers of the 1787 Constitutional Convention for the recognition of Black slavery and, following the Louisiana Purchase of 1803, in continuity with the same meanness toward Native Americans on the part of the politicians, entrepreneurs and settlers. The 1803 event was a meanness enshrined shortly in the doctrine of Manifest Destiny.”
The 1973 decision of Roe vs. Wade simply amplified how we already think about the “other.” Republicans and Democrats alike have been guilty in this matter since it appears to Stafford to be an American problem.

He describes the problem in modern times as one of the manipulation of human life by various “strategies of power.” If he sounds a little like a post-modern Foucoultian, well, he may be in this regard. He argues that “Politics in turn becomes an arena for contention among rival techniques,” leading to “the creation of a worldwide colossus, America’s military…Freedom itself has been reduced to power.”

Stafford seems to primarily blame America’s philosophical heritage of pragmatism because by it, “the good has been drained of ontological content.” There is no good as such, but only goods to be pursued equally by all according to their preference. For Britain, the good is to become the world’s leader in embryonic stem cell research, to be the “scientific midwives of this cultural monstrosity.” In the United States, as if fighting two wars was not enough along with the perpetuation of the colossus of American military might, “Obama has co-sponsored a bill….. that would authorize the large-scale industrial production of human embryos for use in biomedical research in which they would be killed.”

The problem as Stafford reads it is a “technological mind-set.” He again turns to Heidegger for explanation in a long quotation:
“Techne can only cooperate with phusis, can more or less expedite the cure; but as techne it can never replace phusis and itself become the arche of health itself. This could happen only if life as such were to become a ‘’technically’ producible artifact. However, at that very moment there would also no longer be such a thing as health, any more than there would be birth and death. Sometimes it seems as if modern humanity is rushing headlong toward this goal of producing itself technologically. If humanity achieves this, it will have exploded itself, i.e., its essence qua subjectivity, into thin air, into a region where the absolutely meaningless is valued as the one and only ‘meaning’ and where preserving this value appears as the human ‘domination’ of the globe. ‘Subjectivity’ is not overcome in this way but merely ‘tranquilized’ in the ‘eternal progress’ of a Chinese-life ‘constancy.’ This is the most extreme nonessence in relation to phusis-ousia.”
While hard to decipher, Heidegger hits the nail on the head. Techne can never be phusis, nature. It can only help or aid it according to its own potentialities for growth and development. But techne is no longer satisfied to simply dominate nature qua non-human creation. That has almost exhaustively been done it seems. No, techne now must also dominate subjectivity, dissolving it into thin air. Of course subjectivity in this case does not cease to exist, but simply becomes statically tranquilized by techne. It rolls along in a daze as techne absorbs and destroys all around it, the recent financial crisis being a case in point. Nature – including human subjectivity – can only be nature, phusis, properly when directed toward its own intrinsic ends. Otherwise nature is simply power, and subjectivity is no longer freedom. Or, Freedom is Power if there is no Good. American pragmatism is no more than a philosophy of power-technique.

More to come later as to the solution. So far I think the diagnosis by Stafford is pretty spot on.

Nathan O'Halloran, SJ

Thursday, November 20, 2008

An Open Letter

From Henry Karlson over at Vox Nova:

President-elect Barack Obama

As American Catholics, we, the undersigned, would like to reiterate the congratulations given to you by Pope Benedict XVI. We will be praying for you as you undertake the office of President of the United States.

Wishing you much good will, we hope we will be able to work with you, your administration, and our fellow citizens to move beyond the gridlock which has often harmed our great nation in recent years. Too often, partisan politics has hampered our response to disaster and misfortune. As a result of this, many Americans have become resentful, blaming others for what happens instead of realizing our own responsibilities. We face serious problems as a people, and if we hope to overcome the crises we face in today’s world, we should make a serious effort to set aside the bitterness in our hearts, to listen to one another, and to work with one another

One of the praiseworthy elements of your campaign has been the call to end such partisanship. You have stated a desire to engage others in dialogue. With you, we believe that real achievement comes not through the defamation of one’s opponents, nor by amassing power and using it merely as a tool for one’s own individual will. We also believe dialogue is essential. We too wish to appeal to the better nature of the nation. We want to encourage people to work together for the common good. Such action can and will engender trust. It may change the hearts of many, and it might alter the path of our nation, shifting to a road leading to a better America. We hope this theme of your campaign is realized in the years ahead.

One of the critical issues which currently divides our nation is abortion. As you have said, no one is for abortion, and you would agree to limit late-term abortions as long as any bill which comes your way allows for exceptions to those limits, such as when the health of the mother is in jeopardy. You have also said you would like to work on those social issues which cause women to feel as if they have a need for an abortion, so as to reduce the actual number of abortions being performed in the United States.

Indeed, you said in your third presidential debate, “But there surely is some common ground when both those who believe in choice and those who are opposed to abortion can come together and say, ‘We should try to prevent unintended pregnancies by providing appropriate education to our youth, communicating that sexuality is sacred and that they should not be engaged in cavalier activity, and providing options for adoption, and helping single mothers if they want to choose to keep the baby.’”

As men and women who oppose abortion and embrace a pro-life ethic, we want to commend your willingness to engage us in dialogue, and we ask that you live up to your promise, and engage us on this issue.

There is much we can do together. There is much that we can do to help women who find themselves in difficult situations so they will not see abortion as their only option. There is much which we can do to help eliminate those unwanted pregnancies which lead to abortion.

One of your campaign promises is of grave concern to many pro-life citizens. On January 22, 2008, the 35th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, when speaking of the current right of women in America to have abortions, you said, “And I will continue to defend this right by passing the Freedom of Choice Act as president.”

The Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA) might well undermine your engagement of pro-life Americans on the question of abortion. It might hamper any effort on your part to work with us to limit late-term abortions. We believe FOCA does more than allow for choice. It may force the choice of a woman upon others, and make them morally complicit in such choice. One concern is that it would force doctors and hospitals which would otherwise choose not to perform abortions to do so, even if it went against their sacred beliefs. Such a law would undermine choice, and might begin the process by which abortion is enforced as a preferred option, instead of being one possible choice for a doctor to practice.

It is because of such concern we write. We urge you to engage us, and to dialogue with us, and to do so before you consider signing this legislation. Let us reason together and search out the implications of FOCA. Let us carefully review it and search for contradictions of those positions which we hold in common.

If FOCA can be postponed for the present, and serious dialogue begun with us, as well as with those who disagree with us, you will demonstrate that your administration will indeed be one that rises above partisanship, and will be one of change. This might well be the first step toward resolving an issue which tears at the fabric of our churches, our political process, our families, our very society, and that causes so much hardship and heartache in pregnant women.

Likewise, you have also recently stated you might over-ride some of President G.W. Bush’s executive orders. This is also a concern to us. We believe doing so without having a dialogue with the American people would undermine the political environment you would like to establish. Among those issues which concern us are those which would use taxpayer money to support actions we find to be morally questionable, such as embryonic stem cell research, or to fund international organizations that would counsel women to have an abortion (this would make abortion to be more than a mere choice, but an encouraged activity).

Consider, sir, your general promise to the American people and set aside particular promises to a part of your constituency. This would indicate that you plan to reject politics as usual. This would indeed be a change we need.


Mason Slidell

Thursday, November 6, 2008


From Campaign Carl

Mason Slidell

Election Reflections

Highlights from our election:

1) Racism is our national disease. No one can deny the progress Americans have made toward racial harmony, but at the same time, no one can claim that the subtle racism found in white privilege no longer exists. Barack Obama’s election to the Presidency is a brilliant example of what it means to be an American. We are less of an ethnic or national group, but a diverse people united by the common principle of honor for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. If we consider other countries with substantial racial or ethnic minorities, could we imagine them electing a minority chief executive? What is the likelihood of a French Algerian becoming President of France or a British Pakistani as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom? Despite our original sin of slavery, our historical evolution has continued to broaden our belief that all men are created equal. That belief is potent. Our conscientious striving to be ever truer to that belief made Tuesday night possible

2) More pro-life Democrats will serve in Congress than ever before. Four more pro-life Democrats were elected to the House of Representatives - Bobby Bright of Alabama, Parker Griffith of Alabama, Kathy Dahlkemper of Pennsylvania and Steve Driehaus of Ohio - bringing the total number to 40. As the national Democratic Party hungered after a larger majority in Congress, they were forced to embrace pro-life candidates to run among socially conservative Catholics and Protestants in the South and Midwest and that is a gain for all who participate in the struggle for life. I hope these pro-life Democrats will help moderate their radical pro-abortion colleagues in the Democratic caucus.

Some concerns that arise from our election:

1) The continued struggle for legal recognition of the unborn is made harder with the election of Barack Obama and the Congressional leadership of Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid. The possibility that frightens me the most is the so-called Freedom of Choice Act, which would overturn state laws that have chipped away little by little at unfettered access to abortion and force Medicaid to cover abortion services. Thankfully, the Democrats did not reach a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate, but I call on pro-life activists to avoid compliancy, as there are three Republican Senators - Susan Collins of Maine, Olympia Snowe of Maine and Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania - who are pro-abortion. We must continue to be vigilant of Democrats and Republicans. Our sojourn continues and I hope we all become more aware of the need to tackle the tougher challenge of evangelizing our culture with as much gusto as we put into political efforts.

2) One party government scares me. And it should scare you too. We do not have to go back very far to see the corruption and decadence that one party rule breeds. From 2001 to 2007, our Republic was greatly devalued as checks and balances broke down. We faced a Republican monolith in the White House and Congress that promoted cynicism and aggressive partisanship. We were lied to and spied on with abandon and the Republican machine fed itself on greed and hubris. I fear this will happen again under the new regime, but I will give the Democrats the benefit of the doubt - for now.

Mason Slidell

Monday, November 3, 2008

Pulling the Lever for Ron Paul

The two year campaign ends tomorrow. I have already voted here in my home state of Louisiana during the early voting period. Here in Louisiana, the ballot access laws are looser than other states, giving third party and independent candidates the opportunity to get on the ballot without overly burdensome requirements.

Among those on the ballot here is Ron Paul, who was placed on the ballot by a group called the Louisiana Taxpayers Party. I proudly voted for him.

My reasons are straightforward:
1) Ron Paul is pro-life.
2) Ron Paul supports a foreign policy of non-intervention and supports international friendship over aggression.
3) Ron Paul supports serious federal spending cuts and reasonable monetary policies based on gold and silver.
4) Ron Paul supports ending government spying through the PATRIOT Act, the REAL ID Act and domestic surveillance by the National Security Agency and ending military internment at Guantanamo Bay.

There are two major positions of Ron Paul I take issue with. I oppose his lack of support for universal health care coverage and his support for free trade. In our current political environment however, I voted for Ron Paul because of his simple devotion to the principles of our Constitution. While his positions may seem radical to some, they have a much firmer foundation in our constitutional history than our "serious," "mainstream" candidates.

Whatever happens tomorrow, Christians must continue to be people of prayer active in the public square. As Cardinal Jean Danielou, S.J. put so well in his book Prayer as a Political Problem: "There can be no radical division between civilization and what belongs to the interior being of man; there must be a dialogue between prayer and the pursuit and realization of public policy. In other words, there can be no civilization where prayer is not its representative expression."

Mason Slidell

Sunday, November 2, 2008

"To shed them because Love is not loved"

Sylvester Tan, currently in philosophy at the University of Toronto, a member of the Southern Province of the Society of Jesus, offers the following as a reflection on the feast of All Saints and in lieu of the death of two Jesuits in Moscow.
Today the Church celebrates all of her saints. It is a great feast—in heaven and on earth. Heaven inclines towards us: is it made up of the stuff that the saints have brought to heaven with them from earth. The rose-petals that St Thérèse of Lisieux promises to rain from heaven after her death are the ones that she brought up to heaven with her from the simple little life that she lived. We have all of eternity before us, but we are given only one life that can be brought with us into that eternity. This should make us especially aware—as Ignatius was—of the importance of the life that we have been given. Everything that we do in time has an effect on eternity.

On the flipside, from eternity the saints reach out to us today by means of their earthly lives—the way Thérèse does with her rose-petals—and our lives are changed by theirs. Especially here at the mass, we should be particularly conscient of this. Along with the Lord, the saints are here, not only in spirit, but also in this room, right now. As Christians, we are called to live in heaven on the earth. But today we are tempted to separate heaven and earth in a way that is alien both to our scriptures and to our Catholic tradition. Heaven comes to us nowhere else but in the concrete realities of the earth and yet—irony of ironies—we often cannot see heaven because we can see nothing more than the earth in what we are given. We have lost a good part of our sense of Providence. And we are blind to a good part of our Church if our Church is made up of only of those whom we can see. Alongside us in the Church are the saints—in fact, they are the Church par excellence. To understand what Church is, we must also look to them, and realize that even—perhaps especially—in the concrete circumstances of our lives, they are there. Like the Lord, they too can be tough on us. We should not be surprised if Ignatius is no less tough on us now than he was to his companions in life. But he wants to show us that we ought not take the first place: that place belongs to the Lord. If the Society were ever to tire of Ignatius and just toss him aside, it would cease to be the Society of Jesus. Just so, our understanding of the Church is incomplete if it does not recognise that we walk together with all the saints, even today.

What the saints want us to see is how the Lord shines through them. The saints never draw attention to themselves, except insofar as doing so would draw our eyes to our Lord. In the same way, their thoughts do not revolve around their own person, but around the Lord. They love him. What kind of spouse spends all of his time being worried about whether he is a good spouse without hardly giving a second thought to the one he loves? A very self-centred one. We want to do well and serve the Lord and so on, but we end up focusing on ourselves and not the Lord. If being a saint means being perfect the way Michaelangelo's David is perfect, then the Lord does not want us to be saints! But that is not what it is to be a saint.

What is it, then, to be a saint? It is to stop being the centre of your own attention so that the Lord can take the place in your heart that can never belong to the Beloved if it is already taken up by oneself. It is to stop shedding tears because you are not perfect and to begin to shed them because Love is not loved. It is to stand in awe before the Lord and praise him for his greatness. Where temptation is too great for us and we do fall, it is not to hide from God as Adam does in the garden, but to run to him in tears and tell him that we are sorry, and then, to go on with our lives, trusting that if we make an effort to do the right thing, then Jesus will help us to be like him in the way that he wishes, in his own time—but that we are not there yet. We have not arrived. None of the saints have ever arrived. A struggle yet awaits us, and if we are following the Lord, then we are already in the midst of it. It is the struggle to do that which is simple, but not necessarily easy. Nothing could be simpler than the Beatitudes. And yet living that beatitude is nothing short of a miracle.

After having seen the great multitude of those who had been sealed in the name of the Lamb, John is told by one of the elders: “These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”

The Christian life is an ordeal: Christ himself promises no less, and we do no one any favours by trying to run away from that fact. The savage murder of our brothers in Moscow offers us a brutal reminder of this. How do we react to the death of our confrères? We are saddened naturally, and perhaps a bit angry. Perhaps we look for someone to blame, or perhaps we indict the world of the great evils of intolerance and injustice. In all this, our reaction is no different from that of those who do not know Christ. And yet, when the early Jesuits ran the English college in Rome in the 16th century, did they not gather all of the seminarians together in the chapel to thank God and praise his name by singing a Te Deum whenever one of their own was martyred? We are called to see martyrdom as a great gift: not in the way that suicide bombers see it —as a ticket to heaven—but as something far more profound.

We are to work for a more just society without letting a merely human view of justice that might keep us from love. It is only through the spilling of our own blood that true justice can come about. I am a Christian, because some Christian, in a time and place long forgotten, let himself be stuck-down by one of my ancestors. This is true, not only for my Vietnamese forebears, but also for my Frankish ones. It was a grace to have been the one who struck down that Christian, because, for having struck him down, that person tasted—and was converted—to the Love that let itself be struck down. Even in my own life there are those who turned the other cheek when I struck them down, and through their suffering I discovered love. This is an aspect of the redemption that Georges Rouault depicts in plate forty-seven of his Miserere collection: the inscription is, “The just, like sandalwood, perfumes the axe that strikes it.”

The blood that is spilled ultimately is not our own: it is Christ's blood spilled out for us. Though we do indeed crucify the Lord, he does not hold this against us, but rather, he loves us all the more for having suffered for us. So let not our blood be held against those who spill it, but may it rather be our gift of love to them. For they do not take our lives from us, we give it to them in the grace of the one who gave us life through his own blood.

To live in this way calls for profound liberty and humility. It calls for the recognition that, in a sense, the mission to which we are called—which is absolutely essential—is also unimportant. For when all is said and done and we have bathed our robes with the blood of the lamb that pours forth from our own slain bodies, then our reward will be precisely that of not being in the centre. It will be to be part of the great multitude in which each one surrenders the palm and the crown that he has been given in order to glorify the lamb that was slain. Each one in that crowd will have fought and conquered—with God's help and grace—that spirit within himself that would have placed himself instead of the Lord at the centre of his own heart If this is not what we want, then we should at least ask ourselves whether our hearts are truly free to desire it. If we discover that they are not, then let us ask the Lord for the freedom to desire nothing less. In doing so we are never alone, for the Lord is with us—and with him, we walk in the midst of a great multitude. May we come to know and love the saints among whom we walk, and may we be borne by their prayers. Amen.
Nathan O'Halloran, SJ

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Teaching of Bishops

Every four years there comes to the faithful several letters from our bishops collectively and bishops speaking to their respective flocks. The document from the USCCB this year, entitled Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, is a well-written and comprehensive teaching on the political responsibility of Catholics, though the document's biggest flaw is that it has the distinct feel of committee-speak in which several threads of thought are weaved together in one document by way of a few transitional words.

This year's letter contra the comprehensive approach of Faithful Citizenship is by Bishop Joseph Martino of Scranton. Bishop Martino's approach is more traditionally hierarchical and, most unfortunately, provides language for those who wish to flat out dismiss all other issues that are clearly apart of the protection and promotion of human dignity (among those that the bishop names are education, health care, immigration and economic security) in favor of a myopic fixation on overturning Roe v. Wade.

This morning, I had the chance to read another letter from Bishop J. Terry Steib, S.V.D. of Memphis. Please read the whole letter, but I would like to point out a few sentences that I found particularly fruitful for reflection:
A number of Catholics have been asking their bishops to endorse candidates. In the past two weeks, I have received letters from well-meaning people telling me for whom I should vote and how I should inform parishioners regarding the candidates for whom they should or should not cast their ballot. However well-intended the writers are, it is not my duty nor is it my role to tell the members of the community of faith in the Diocese of Memphis how to vote.

My ministry is to proclaim the truth of Jesus Christ as announced in Scripture and articulated by the Church so that our people can make good and wise decisions in their lives. My ministry is to make certain that all Catholics in the Diocese of Memphis cast their vote using a well-informed conscience as a guide....

I am in agreement with this statement which was issued last November. Pope Benedict XVI, in his first encyclical, Deus Caritas Est, said, "The Church cannot and must not take upon herself the political battle to bring about the most just society possible. She cannot and must not replace the State. Yet at the same time she cannot and must nor remain on the sidelines in the fight for justice."

According to our Holy Father, we disciples of Jesus cannot remain on the sidelines in the fight for justice; this means that we must be part of the game. However, politics is not just a game; it is instead a part of the commonwealth of our lives. Just as we cannot avoid drinking water in order to live, so also, as faithful Christians we cannot avoid being involved in the political process and remain good Christians. But if we are to be involved in the political process by voting, then we must have formed our consciences well....

As we form our conscience, we must be aware of the need for prudence. Prudence is not easy to define, but according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, prudence helps us to "discern our true good in every circumstance and to choose the right means of achieving it."

So, when we are presented with candidates whose views do not reflect the full teachings of the Church, what are we to do? The spiritual writer, Father Ronald Rolheiser, OMI, has written in his book Secularity and the Gospel: "In an age of increasing violence, fundamentalism, and the myth that God wishes to cleanse the planet of its sin and immorality by force, perhaps the first witness we must give to our world is a witness to God's non-violence, a witness to the God revealed by Jesus Christ who opposes violence of all kinds, from war, to revenge, to capital punishment, to abortion, to euthanasia, to the attempt to use force to bring about justice and God's will in any way."
Mason Slidell

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Fiction, the Bible and Thoughts on Inerrancy

I thought today I would make a few comments on the Bible, springboarding off of the current Synod and an interview with Cardinal George. As the issue of inerrancy of Scripture has become something of an undercurrent theme of the synod that will hopefully eventually rise to the surface, this gives me a chance to vent some thoughts on the topic.

It's not an easy topic. Whoever says so is just stupid.

What does it mean for Scripture to be inerrant? That is the great battle. It depends on whether one accepts a minimalistic, maximalistic, or middle of the road position on the issue. But before even these become issues, it certainly does not mean certain things.

It does not mean that on the literalistic level, Scripture is always without error. It does mean that on the literal level Scripture always teaches truth. Let me explain. When I teach my 9th graders about the books of Tobit, Judith, and Jonah, I will teach them to read them literally. By that I will mean that they should read them on the literal level as they would read a Flannery O'Connor short story, a work of fiction. Since that is what they are. They are inspired works of fiction, inspired short stories that convey a message which God, through the human author, wanted them to convey. To read them in any other literalistic way -- presuming them to be journalistic history, for example -- would be a gross mistreatment of the text and of its literal meaning.

People seem to have trouble getting this.

When I read the genealogies in Genesis and say that they all don't match, they borrow names to fill in spaces, they skip people, and therefore say that Genesis is not historically true, I have again missed the mark. The purpose of genealogies in Genesis is to give the book narrative structure. They were probably included in the text by Priestly school redactors after the return from the Exile. Genealogies serve a special theological purpose for the authors: they reveal that God's plans continue despite human sin, and that God is capable of working through fallible human agents. Their purpose is thus primarily theological, not historical. It doesn't take a very careful reading of Genesis to notice the function they perform.

Or you just have to read it like an adult, and not like a kid.

Cardinal George had a couple interesting things to say on this topic. He briefly summarizes the dispute:

One way of solving it came out of the Second Vatican Council. It wasn’t Cardinal Bea’s way of solving it, but that of some commentators. [Note: Cardinal Augustin Bea was a German Biblical scholar and influential figure at Vatican II. Bea, who died in 1968, also headed the Vatican’s office for Christian unity.] It holds that what God intended for our salvation is what’s inerrant. It didn’t say that the rest wasn’t inspired, but nonetheless scripture’s inerrancy is more or less limited to what God intended to teach for our salvation. The other school is a little bit broader, and I think it’s more where we’re at now. It says no, inerrancy applies also to what the human author intended to teach, under God’s inspiration. However, what the human author did not intend to teach, but rather brought in to his writings because it was part of the zeitgeist, the understanding of the world at the time, is not necessarily factually inerrant. So there are all kinds of places where you can split it, but you’ve got to determine what those places are and how you should go at it. In that sense, a document might be helpful.

So, there are two things going on when historical facts are not "true" in Scripture. First, are we judging them by a post-Enlightenment understanding of truth, or by an ancient Hebrew understanding of truth? They are not univocal in meaning. Second, what was part of the ancient author's zeitgeist, the human element of scripture, that may strike us as odd or inaccurate, but is not central to his claim concerning God and the world? And how far can we stretch this second notion? That is a very important and complex question that I hope the synod touches on. How much of the zeitgeist can you be rid of if you don't like it?

The interview then goes in an interesting direction following a question about John Paul II:
But the temptation of nationalism isn’t just fueled by European nostalgia for the ancien regime, a sentiment that’s now largely passé, is it? Isn’t there a streak of nationalism in American Catholicism too, which has to do partly with geography, a congregationalist ethos, and a strong sense of American patriotism?

You also find it in Latin America, in Asia … you have the same temptation to nationalism around the world. They haven’t conceived of the church nationally the same way they did in some European nations, but it’s always there. Whom do you adore, the people or God? What’s more important, the nation or the church?

In reality, it’s more ‘sectarian’ to be American or French than it is to be Catholic …

Of course that’s true, but …

Don’t say ‘of course.’ A lot of people don’t think that’s true at all, including in our own country. Take a look at the way they use the word ‘sectarian.’

Who’s ‘they’?

In the public conversation in the United States. If you say something’s ‘sectarian,’ people automatically think you mean it’s religious. They never assume that it means ‘nationalist.’

I wonder if there’s something uniquely insular, to use that word, about the United States, and therefore about Catholicism in the United States, that cuts a bit deeper than some other places. After all, we’re the world’s exporter of culture. We produce the books and movies and TV shows and music that everyone else consumes, but it doesn’t come as naturally to us to import culture.

What you’re saying is that the insularity of the United States affects Catholics in the United States, who become insular because they’re Americans.

Do you think that’s true?


What do we do about it?

(Laughs). That’s a very good question, and I wish I knew the answer. I don’t believe that I do. The answer to that question would be how we should shape our ministry.
Though seemingly off topic, this analysis of current American Catholicism touches closely on another aspect of Biblical interpretation, namely, the need for interpreting Scripture in our times. Since the Bible must be interpreted, as Dei Verbum claims, "in the same Spirit in which it was written," then there is a need for reading the Bible in our times in the Church as the Spirit guides its reading and interpretation. No interpretation is only historical and literal. It is always also a contemporary interpretation according to a contemporary spirit. It will be better interpreted if that spirit is the Spirit, who dwells and acts in the Church. For that reason, interpretation must be carried out within the whole Church.

A great principle, but difficult. This does not mean interpreting Scripture according to my "sectarian" nationalistic Catholicism, but with the whole Church. Truly a challenge.

Those are my thoughts for now. Have a great meal at the table of the Word and Body.

Nathan O'Halloran, SJ

No Room in Denver for Kmiec?

Archbishop Charles Chaput says Catholic legal scholar Douglas Kmiec "couldn't be more mistaken" in comparing his own moral reasoning regarding the 2008 presidential election to that of the archbishop.

Archbishop Chaput said this tonight at a dinner sponsored by ENDOW (Educating on the Nature and Dignity of Women). The talk, which he said reflects his own opinion as a private citizen, is titled "Little Murders."
The prelate spoke at length of Douglas Kmiec’s book "Can a Catholic Support Him? Asking the Big Question about Barack Obama," in which the Pepperdine law professor argues why Catholics should cast their vote in November's presidential election for Senator Barack Obama.

Kmiec publicly endorsed the Democratic candidate earlier this year, stating in an article for Slate that Obama is a "natural" for Catholic voters.

Archbishop Chaput noted that his own book, "Render Unto Caesar," was heavily cited by Kmiec in his defense of Obama: "In fact, he suggests that his reasoning and mine are 'not far distant on the moral inquiry necessary in the election of 2008.'"

"Unfortunately, he either misunderstands or misuses my words, and he couldn’t be more mistaken," said the archbishop.
Any comments from those who may have read both Kmiec's book and Chaput's? Sounds like a good discussion to me. Sadly, I've read neither. Chaput's comments can be found at greater length here. They are without a doubt strong, and he sees no wiggling room for the Catholic likes of Kmiec. He concludes:
"I think that people who claim that the abortion struggle is 'lost' as a matter of law, or that supporting an outspoken defender of legal abortion is somehow 'pro-life,' are not just wrong; they’re betraying the witness of every person who continues the work of defending the unborn child.

"And I hope they know how to explain that, because someday they’ll be required to."

Nathan O'Halloran, SJ

Friday, October 17, 2008

Shift To The Left

If the current trends hold up, the United States will have the most progressive President since the election of Franklin Roosevelt in 1932. In addition, there will be a Democratic supermajority in Congress with the possibility of a Senate with 60 Democrats, meaning that the only effective tool of opposition for the minority party, the filibuster, will not be available to Senate Republicans.

As a person who grew up in the era of Reagan conservatism and Clinton centrism, I have no lived knowledge of a robust and empowered progressive politics. At this point, it remains difficult for me to articulate what this means. How will a hard shift left manifest itself? This will be a fascinating experience of watching and living the re-molding of national politics that happens every 30 years or so.

Many political scientists make the claim that America is, at its core, a center-right country. We are a people prone to incremental change and hostile to revolutionary tendencies. We value tradition, stability and comfort. We ascribe to a national religion of patriotism and hold out our government and culture as having a good and decent influence on the rest of the world. We are highly practical and prefer solutions to ideology. If this analysis of our political core is true, what will the consequences of moving further left be?

Mason Slidell

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The Debate

I thought this was pretty surprising last night. Seeing that many people on the fence about McCain on abortion tend to favor him anyway because he will give us that one more judge that we need on the Supreme Court, this was not very reassuring:
Schieffer: All right. Let's stop there and go to another question. And this one goes to Sen. McCain. Sen. McCain, you believe Roe v. Wade should be overturned. Sen. Obama, you believe it shouldn't.

Could either of you ever nominate someone to the Supreme Court who disagrees with you on this issue? Sen. McCain?

McCain: I would never and have never in all the years I've been there imposed a litmus test on any nominee to the court. That's not appropriate to do.

Schieffer: But you don't want Roe V. Wade to be overturned?

McCain: I thought it was a bad decision. I think there were a lot of decisions that were bad. I think that decisions should rest in the hands of the states. I'm a federalist. And I believe strongly that we should have nominees to the United States Supreme Court based on their qualifications rather than any litmus test.

Now, let me say that there was a time a few years ago when the United States Senate was about to blow up. Republicans wanted to have just a majority vote to confirm a judge and the Democrats were blocking in an unprecedented fashion.

We got together seven Republicans, seven Democrats. You were offered a chance to join. You chose not to because you were afraid of the appointment of, quote, "conservative judges."

I voted for Justice Breyer and Justice Ginsburg. Not because I agreed with their ideology, but because I thought they were qualified and that elections have consequences when presidents are nominated. This is a very important issue we're talking about.

Sen. Obama voted against Justice Alito and Justice Roberts on the grounds that they didn't meet his ideological standards. That's not the way we should judge these nominees. Elections have consequences. They should be judged on their qualifications. And so that's what I will do.

I will find the best people in the world -- in the United States of America who have a history of strict adherence to the Constitution. And not legislating from the bench.

Schieffer: But even if it was someone -- even someone who had a history of being for abortion rights, you would consider them?

McCain: I would consider anyone in their qualifications. I do not believe that someone who has supported Roe v. Wade that would be part of those qualifications. But I certainly would not impose any litmus test.
Any thoughts?

Nathan O'Halloran, SJ

Monday, October 13, 2008

More on the Synod

Cardinal Oscar Rodriquez Maradiaga's concluding comments at the Synod on the Word of God:
Globalization has its positive aspects, especially when talking about information. We are informed of what is happening in the public lives of our countries, often with scandals of every sort. However, we deplore the fact that many protagonists of this social and political scenario have passed through our centers of formation (catechesis, youth groups, schools and universities). We should ask ourselves: what was the role of teaching the Word of God in them? Did we help them encounter the God of the Word? Why, when inserted in public life, whichever scenario they are involved in, are the Gospel values not the orientation of their lives?

In a strong Christian formation, the encounter with the God of the Word is necessary, which changes, modifies the behavior to the point of transforming them into Christian behavior. Therefore it is necessary to re-elaborate the way in which we teach Biblical faith for the life of Christians. A life that must be manifested in all its aspects, and that must embrace the totality of actions, and not only their life within our temples.
Nathan O'Halloran, SJ

Wednesday, October 8, 2008


John Allen reports on the Synod of the Word of God some interesting things surrounding the topic of "inerrancy:"
So far, the Synod of Bishops on the Bible has not featured particularly intense doctrinal debate. Most of the leading themes appear basically pastoral in nature – how to foster better preaching, for example, or more widespread prayer with scripture, especially the use of Lectio Divina.

Around the edges, however, one doctrinal can of worms has been at least partially pried open, focusing on the extent to which the Bible is “inerrant,” meaning free from error.

During a Vatican briefing this morning, reporters were told that some speakers had raised the issue of inerrancy during the last hour of yesterday’s session, as part of the time set aside for free discussion. A cardinal taking part in the synod confirmed to NCR this afternoon that there had been “some grumbling, especially from the more traditional Bible scholars” about the treatment of inerrancy in the Instrumentum Laboris, or working paper, for the synod.

By way of background, the inerrancy of scripture was a bone of contention during and after debates at the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) over the document Dei Verbum, which dealt with divine revelation. In summary, there are two schools of thought: “restricted inerrancy,” which holds that only a limited range of statements in the Bible are free from error (usually those concerned with salvation), and “unrestricted inerrancy,” which asserts that all of scripture is inspired and therefore true (although in the sense of truth which the Bible itself intends.)

The dangers in extreme forms of both positions are reasonably obvious. If one concedes that only some parts of the Bible are inspired, then the door seems open to bowdlerization (a temptation both ancient and new, as examples ranging from Marcion’s edited gospel to Thomas Jefferson’s miracle-free New Testament amply illustrate). Claiming that the whole Bible is free from error, on the other hand, seems to end in fundamentalism – insisting that the world really was created in six days, or glossing over obvious problems in geography and dating. (The Gospel of Mark, for example, has Jesus taking a highly improbable route from Jericho to Jerusalem; one synod member today joked that it’s as if someone were said to have gone from Louisville to Nashville by way of Seattle.)

As is often the case with documents crafted by committee, the final formula in Dei Verbum did not directly settle this dispute. The crucial passage, in paragraph 11, reads: “…we must acknowledge that the books of Scripture, firmly, faithfully and without error, teach that truth which God, for the sake of our salvation, wished to see confided to the sacred Scriptures.”

Ever since, debate has swirled over what exactly that means. Some exegetes saw in the phrase “for the sake of our salvation” a warrant for restricted inerrancy, though that interpretation was rejected by German Cardinal Augustin Bea, who was involved in the drafting of Dei Verbum. In his 1967 book The Word of God and Mankind, Bea wrote that the language of Dei Verbum “explains God’s purpose in causing the scriptures to be written, and not the nature of the truth enshrined therein.”

All of which brings us back to the Instrumentum Laboris, which, in paragraph 15(c) of its English translation, sums up paragraph 11 of Dei Verbum as follows: “With regards to what might be inspired in the many parts of Sacred Scripture, inerrancy applies only to ‘that truth which God wanted put into sacred writings for the sake of salvation.’”

That’s a slightly different twist than appears in the Latin version, which is regarded as definitive. It reads: Quamvis omnes Sacrae Scripturae partes divinitus inspiratae sint, tamen eius inerrantia pertinet tantummodo ad “veritatem, quam Deus nostrae salutis causa Litteris Sacris consignari voluit". In English, that’s roughly: “Although all parts of Sacred Scripture are divinely inspired, nevertheless its inerrancy pertains just to ‘that truth which God, for the sake of our salvation, wished to see consigned to the sacred writings.’”

In other words, there’s no “might” in the Latin about whether all of scripture is inspired.

That point is maintained in the other languages. In Italian, for example, point 15(c) of the Instrumentum Laboris reads: Quantunque la Sacra Scrittura sia ispirata in tutte le sue parti la sua inerranza si riferisce solo … In English, that works out to: “Although Sacred Scripture is inspired in all its parts, its inerrancy refers only to …”

The nuance in the English translation brought protest prior to the synod among some Bible experts and in the conservative Catholic blogosphere, with critics charging that the Instrumentum Laboris, or at least its English version, was endorsing restricted inerrancy by linguistic sleight of hand – in effect, altering the meaning of Dei Verbum on the fly.

To put the point a bit whimsically, the critics have charged that the English translation of the language on inerrancy is, well, rather errant. Yesterday’s discussion indicates that this debate has made its way to the synod floor.

For the record, it should be noted that advocates of “unrestricted inerrancy” are usually prepared to concede that at times, some Bible passages cannot be said to be “free from error” in the literal, face-value sense. Often, they’ll invoke an example from contemporary speech such as, “It’s hot enough to fry an egg on the sidewalk.” There’s a sense in which that may be perfectly true, even if attempts to actually cook eggs on sidewalks would be futile. By extension, they would argue, one should approach scripture with the assumption that every passage is true, even if one has to consider what kind of truth is involved in any given case.

In terms of where things go from here, it does not seem likely that anyone will insist upon revisiting the Instrumentum Laboris itself. It’s intended as a guide for discussion, and by the time the synod is over it will have become more or less a dead letter. In itself, it does not express authoritative teaching, still less its English translation.

On the other hand, the discussion over inerrancy suggests that careful treatment of that topic is likely in the synod’s final documents, whether in the propositions the bishops will submit to the pope, or in the apostolic constitution that Benedict XVI is eventually expected to issue.

If nothing else, there will likely be keen attention to how any language on inerrancy is phrased and translated, so that potentially consequential shifts in meaning aren’t slipped in through a back door.

Nathan O'Halloran, SJ

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Piece-meal Movement

I recently attended the Pax Christi annual peace mass.  I had been invited, and considering myself somehow loosely connected to the peace movement, I thought I would attend and renew my commitment to advocate for non-violence.  I found what I expected, which was primarily a very old crowd rather confused about their own identity as a movement.  I suppose the peace movement was at its strongest during the Vietnam war, and at that time it was successful in many ways.  Dorothy Day is a nice example of a Catholic member of the movement, as is Thomas Merton.  The current movement seems to have lost focus, at least among Catholics.  As has been the case with many "Catholic" peace demonstrations, they seem to be collages of ideas from just about every tradition.  And they seem a bit confused about their own relationship with the Church.  

This particularly struck me.  For example, the woman who read the First Reading from Micah was obviously very conscientious about not ever using the word "Lord" in reference to God, no doubt because it carries medieval feudal connotations.  Ok, so she was being sensitive to subjugated peoples of all kinds, and making a philosophical-semantic point of some kind.  What was funny was that she replaced "Lord" at every instance with "Yahweh," a name that Jews are not allowed to use out of reverence for God's name, and that Benedict has asked not be used in any English translation.  So she replaced one insensitivity with another one.  It struck me as a nice parable for the movement itself:  Fairly confused about its roots and how it could better relate itself to Catholic Social Thought.  It has strong roots there I believe.  But it has no attraction at this point as a movement for many young John Paul II Catholics, since it is not sure whether the 60's anti-Vietnam movement or Catholic Social Thought is a deeper river from which its roots can draw water.  I think the answer is obvious, and for those who want to remember the good elements of the 60's, I'm with them.  But the Peace Movement would do better to look to John XXIII and John Paul II and to root itself there rather than in the Beatles. When it doesn't do so, it frustrates me and many other young Catholics who don't want to be branded as "liberals" and "hippies" for rejecting the Iraq war on just war principles.  

Nathan O'Halloran, SJ  

Opening of the Synod of the Word of God

I just had to share this reflection from Benedict's opening of the Synod of the Word of God, which I hope to follow as closely as time permits. This is beautiful and relevant
Even more, the Word of God is the foundation of everything, it is the true reality. And to be realistic, we must rely upon this reality. We must change our notion that matter, solid things, things we can touch, is the most solid, the most certain reality. At the end of the Sermon on the Mount, the Lord speaks to us about the two possible foundations for building the house of one’s life: sand and rock. He who builds on sand only builds on visible and tangible things, on success, on career, on money. Apparently these are the true realities. But all this one day will vanish. We can see this now with the fall of two large banks: this money disappears, it is nothing. And thus all things, which seem to be the true realities we can count on, are only realities of a secondary order. Who builds his life on these realities, on matter, on success, on appearances, builds upon sand. Only the Word of God is the foundation of all reality, it is as stable as the heavens and more than the heavens, it is reality. Therefore, we must change our concept of realism. The realist is he who recognizes the Word of God, in this apparently weak reality, as the foundation of all things. Realist is he who builds his life on this foundation, which is permanent. Thus the first verses of the Psalm invite us to discover what reality is and how to find the foundation of our life, how to build life.
Yep, God's Word is firmer than banks.  And then he concludes:
Therefore, exegesis, the true reading of the Holy Scripture, is not only a literary phenomenon, not only reading a text. It is the movement of my existence. It is moving towards the Word of God in the human words. Only by conforming to the Mystery of God, to the Lord who is the Word, can we enter within the Word, can we truly find the Word of God in human words. Let us pray to the Lord that He may help us to look for the word, not only with our intellect but also with our entire existence.
I love the existential thrust of this statement. No simple historical-critical unpacking, as we know that Benedict has rejected when free-standing. Rather all the tools of HC along with the Christ-centered reading of the Fathers of the Church, and a subjective placing of oneself at the service of the Word, without which any accurate reading of scripture will be impossible. He tells us to do here what he did in his book on Jesus. I personally enjoy the style. 

Nathan O'Halloran, SJ

Sunday, October 5, 2008

The Lord's Ranch

I wanted to share a couple of videos with our readership. This first one was made by a volunteer at the Lord's Ranch over the past few years who used his digital camera to make videos that he then posted on Youtube. His name is Chris Pham. Since I was writing anonymously for a while, I made no mention of the Lord's Ranch or Fr. Richard Thomas, SJ, my primary reason for being a Jesuit. He was a profound influence on my life, and I hope to now share much more about him and his writings and work in the future. I am convinced, as are many, that he is on the way toward sainthood. The first video is a brief introduction to the Lord's Ranch and it's ministries. The second one is a video about my little sister Rebekah -- here called Madison -- who was saved from being aborted and then adopted by my family. It is a beautiful story and I want to share it with all of you. The video also offers some nice practical suggestions on how to successfully fight abortion. Please let me know what you thought of these videos and your comments and musings.

Nathan O'Halloran, SJ

Monday, September 29, 2008

The Vote In Opposition

I would encourage folks to take a look at the vote tally on the Wall Street bailout bill and skim through the "nay" votes. You will see Democrats and Republicans who are the most stringent in their respective ideological positions. Men and women who could not be more different - a Latte liberal from Thousand Oaks, California (Brad Sherman) and a Bible thumper from Dallas, Texas (Jeb Hensarling), a hippie college professor from Hawaii (Neil Abercrombie) and a Lutheran ladies gun league member from Minnesota (Michelle Bachmann), a Hispanic from the border (Henry Cuellar) and an African-American from the inner city (John Conyers), even a Libertarian-leaning OBGYN (Ron Paul) and a Socialist-leaning polka dancer (Dennis Kucinich).

What does this tell us? That good, old-fashioned populism still thrives among the poor and middle class of all ideological and ethnic backgrounds. Usually the financial barons hide quietly in the shadows, preferring the political focus to be on foreign entanglements and social mores. But every now and then, their greed reaches such a level of explosive irresponsibility that the people focus in with righteous indignation. God help the paper millionaires when the masses revolt.

Mason Slidell

One Vast Dishonorable Muddle

In light of the recent disaster in the stock market, I am reminded of Peter Maurin's oft-quoted phrase to the effect of "do not make money with money." Rather he would often remind people who would turn to him for counsel:
"Earn a living by the sweat of your own brow, not someone else's. Choose a work that can be considered honorable, and can be classed under the heading of a Work of Mercy, serving your brothers, not exploiting them. Mans work is as important to him as bread, and by it he gains his bread. And by it he gains too, because he serves his brother."
Maurin, as also Dorothy Day, was an avid reader of Chesterton, who wrote concerning usury and investments in stocks:
"As modern investments are made, almost anybody may have his money in some sense in an armament firm, or a business financing and assassination firm, for all the individual investor knows about it. Now this sort of anonymity and obviously nothing more than one vast dishonourable muddle."
What a great description for what we find ourselves in now.

Nathan O'Halloran, SJ

Sunday, September 28, 2008

The Great American Debate Between The Living Dead

So, round one is over. I think these debates are, in so many ways, a waste of time. Questions from moderators who don't press the point. Scripted policy positions and one-liners. Men who stand formal and lifeless - as if they have no humanity left. The only reason I watched was to see if John McCain would have a senior moment or if Barack Obama would play the race card. Maybe next time.

But for those of us who engage in amateur political analysis, the debates do provide some insight to the psyche of these candidates. After all, there are only three times in the whole campaign in which they have to be on the same stage with each other. The pressure is no doubt intense as each man has to monitor his composure and responses, as well as attempt to rattle your opponent in a cool and collected manner.

I thought Obama came off stronger than McCain, mainly because Obama makes lifelessness look erudite. He proved he was just as informed as McCain on Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Russia, which is big. McCain played the seasoned statesman well, but seemed a bit dated as he brought up as examples of his judgment during the Lebanese mission in 1982 and various quips about the Soviet Union, Gorbachev and Glasnost (pop quiz for the youngsters: what is glasnost?). On the whole, I thought it was a draw, which in this environment is a win for Obama. The first debate, however, is likely to be the least consequential of the three, so McCain will have another day.

Mason Slidell

Saturday, September 27, 2008

A Further Look at Weigelian Politics

George Weigel is at his careful neoconservative politicking again:
Thoughtful Catholic voters will thus want both to pose serious questions to both the principal presidential candidates.
Of course his questions are typically Weigelian, using "Catholic" as a semantic code for having a neoconservative "pro-life" position. His questions to Obama show his disingenuousness:
1. Do you regret your vote against a partial-birth abortion ban when you were an Illinois state senator?
2. During your service in Springfield, you opposed a bill that would give legal protection to infants who survive an abortion. Was that a choice you would like to revisit? If so, why? If not, why not?
3. What precisely did you mean when you said you wouldn’t want one of your daughters “punished with a baby,” should they find themselves in the dilemma of unwanted pregnancy?
4. You have a 100 percent rating from NARAL Pro-Choice America. Is there any matter of public policy on which you and NARAL differ?
5. Would support for Roe v. Wade be a litmus test for candidates you would nominate to the Supreme Court?
Of course Obama is a pro-death candidate and I have no interest or intention in defending him in this matter. His position is indefensible. However, asking leading questions or already answered questions do not further the goal of actually getting to the heart of whether or not a candidate accepts parts of the complete Catholic social package or not. For instance, Obama has answered as to what he meant when he said one of his daughters should not be "punished with a baby."

The Obama campaign responded:
"What Senator Obama said and what he believes is clear -- children are "miracles," but we have a problem when so many children are having children. As Senator Obama said on Saturday -- and on many other occasions -- parents have a responsibility to teach their children about values and morals to help make sure they are not treating sex casually. And while he understands the passions on both sides of this difficult issue, Senator Obama believes we can all agree that we should be taking steps to reduce the number of teen pregnancies and abortions in this country."
So, Weigel, we have an answer. You don't have to believe Obama, but you have an answer. Just setting up questions like this is hardly good sportsmanship.

And what about for McCain? Weigel lobs "Catholic" softballs to him:
1. You have a strong pro-life voting record during your congressional service, yet some pro-lifers are nervous about you. Why? Where do the life issues rank in your list of priorities for America’s future?
2. You and Mrs. McCain adopted an infant at the request of Mother Teresa; has that experience shaped your views on the life issues?
3. Would you favor Supreme Court nominees who believe that Roe v. Wade was wrongly decided?
4. As you know, many pro-life groups opposed the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform law, arguing that it unduly burdened issue advocacy organizations. Have you re-thought your approach to campaign finance reform in light of those criticisms?
Good Lord, why don't you just go to bed together. Why are some pro-lifers nervous? Well, that could be answered first my mentioning McCain's continued support for embryonic stem cell research, despite the tremendous advances in Induced Pluripotent stem cells that have come about. How about asking him about this statement:
When asked whether recent advances in nonembryonic stem cell research would change his stance, McCain replied, "I have not changed my position yet."
Ok, well then, when will you change your position? That is a good question Weigel. Then of course another softball in regards to his adoption. How about instead asking about his flip-flopping on the position of judges. In 1999 McCain seemed fairly ambiguous about his own position. McCain was quoted in the August 20, 1999, San Francisco Chronicle saying:
But certainly in the short term, or even the long term, I would not support repeal of Roe v. Wade, which would then force X number of women in America to [undergo] illegal and dangerous operations.

An August 25, 1999, Chronicle article noted that on August 23, "McCain's campaign released a clarification: 'I have always believed in the importance of the repeal of Roe vs. Wade, and as president, I would work toward its repeal.' " McCain's comments, according to the article, drew criticism from Republicans, who claimed McCain "appeared to be trying to please both sides on an issue that has been at the top of the political radar in California in recent elections."

On the June 19, 2005, broadcast of NBC's Meet the Press, McCain took yet another position, claiming that he agreed "to some degree" that Roe v. Wade should be overturned:
So which is it? That would be a good questions Weigel: Do you or do you not, Mr. McCain, believe that Roe vs. Wade should be overturned.

Then of course, we have all the questions that Weigel as a neoconservative is not interested in asking. What about torture? What about American terrorism throughout the world? What about McCain's happy trigger finger? Actually, a great "pro-life" question would be:

Mr. McCain, when you sang the words "bomb, bomb, bomb Iran" to an old Beach Boys song, or when you joked that sending them cigarettes was a good way to kill Iranians, how exactly did this contribute to the culture of life that you propose to support?

Obama is slimy, and McCain is an outright liar. Let's make them both know that we are not satisfied with either of them, and that Faithful Citizenship is far from either of their agendas. Please Weigel, for once be fair. Maybe take your cue from Fr. John Kavanaugh, SJ this time, here and here. At least he's being an honest Catholic.

Nathan O'Halloran, SJ