Friday, February 29, 2008

Public Religion in America

Here a few pieces from Benedict's welcoming letter to Ambassador Glendon:
From the dawn of the Republic, America has been, as you noted, a nation which values the role of religious belief in ensuring a vibrant and ethically sound democratic order. Your nation’s example of uniting people of good will, regardless of race, nationality or creed, in a shared vision and a disciplined pursuit of the common good has encouraged many younger nations in their efforts to create a harmonious, free and just social order.
Someone has read Alexis de Tocqueville.
The American people’s historic appreciation of the role of religion in shaping public discourse and in shedding light on the inherent moral dimension of social issues - a role at times contested in the name of a straitened understanding of political life and public discourse - is reflected in the efforts of so many of your fellow-citizens and government leaders to ensure legal protection for God’s gift of life from conception to natural death, and the safeguarding of the institution of marriage, acknowledged as a stable union between a man and a woman, and that of the family.
I am very pleased with Benedict’s positive recognition of the American ability to make room for religious values in public policy. John Courtney Murray often referred the America’s religious liberty as great “articles of peace.” No doubt that phrase was made with reference to the Treaty of Westphalia and the end of religious warfare in Europe. Yet, it is worth noting that the United States has done a supremely better job in giving religious values a role in not only political life, but also cultural life.

The American experience in religious peace has been much more successful than Europe’s experiment. Tocqueville and Benedict are aware of this reason: the European dichotomy has been official religion or no religion. The American experience has given religion room to breathe, in both the public and private sphere.

Unfortunately, the public space for religious expression has constricted in the last few decades. I am of the opinion that the roots of this are in JFK’s speech to Protestant leaders in Houston during the 1960 campaign for President. However politically expedient it may have been, to declare that one’s religious values (presumably values that are both heart-felt and sincere) have no place in one's decision-making process was a tragic statement. Kennedy rebelled against a venerable historical tradition in this country in which religion and conscience were give a proper place in public life.

Mason Slidell

Photo of the Moment

The Holy Father receiving Mary Ann Glendon's credentials as U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See. First stop, Villa Richardson, next stop the Supreme Court (let us hope and pray).

Mason Slidell

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

"A Person's a Person No Matter How Small"

It's finally here! One of the greatest pro-life children's books of all time, now in a G rated movie! I can remember the time also when my Confirmation teacher did a dramatic reading of this in our class, one of the best Confirmation classes ever. I personally can't wait to see it. I've commented in past posts about the influx of movies dealing with the abortion issue. Of course this one is not explicit either, but how else can one hear the powerful mantra: "A person's a person no matter how small?" I've heard screwed up things about Dr. Seuss. I'm no sure which one's are true. I'll let someone else figure that out. All I know is that he could write and this is one of his best ever.

Markel, SJ

On Teilhard de Chardin (and other Orthodox Jesuits)

If you have ever had the opportunity to visit Some Wear Clerics, you may have noticed that there is a particular list entitled "The List that Dear Not Speak its Name." This is only its current incarnation. In the past it has also gone by "Jesuit Honor Roll," "Old Fashioned St. Ignatius Jesuits" and according to its underground title, "The Black List." There are many things that disturb us about such a list, namely its extremely ambiguous criteria.

We have known quite a few Jesuits who belong on this list, and there are some Jesuits who are on this list that don't belong - that is, if we actually understand what Karen is trying to do. Whatever the case may be, if she simply called it, "Jesuits I Like," that would be fine. But because she seeks to label these Jesuits as if they were ones that St. Ignatius would like (and so ones that Arrupe and other liberals would dislike by implication), we would like to show that for the most part the Society of Jesus disagrees with any such naming. It transcends the artificial boundaries set up by Karen and such useless and subjectively artificial boundaries are neither helpful to the charity that Ignatius made paramount to his way of life, nor to the readers of her blog, nor finally and especially to many of the Jesuits on this list who I know would be appalled there to find their names inscribed.

Why don't we go through some of these Jesuits and see how marginalized or "Old Fashioned" or "unspeakable" they really are:

Fr. C.A. Leininger: Former high school principal; Socius under two provincials (Socius is Jesuit-speak for chief of staff)

Fr. Raymond Fitzgerald: Current Socius of the New Orleans Province

Fr. Richard Hermes: Future President of Jesuit High School, Tampa

Fr. Norris Clarke: Retired professor of Philosophy at Fordham University; affinity for Buddhist spirituality; not particularly fond of the leadership style of John Paul II, who he considered too heavy-handed; considered to be a mainstream Jesuit

Fr. Raymond Gawronwski: Raised a hippie; experienced a conversion, became a Jesuit, and continues to practice daily zen meditation (very Arrupean)

Fr. Joseph Koterski: Former chair of the Philosophy department at Fordham University

Fr. Thomas King: Proponent and expert on the scientific and theological views of Teilhard de Chardin (well known for his orthodoxy). Needless to say, many on the "list" would not share Father King's positive views toward "Christogenesis."

Fr. Mitch Pacwa: Influential host and producer at EWTN; considered to be a mainstream Jesuit who is not ostracized from his superiors or fellow Jesuits

Avery Cardinal Dulles: Definitely a name that dare not be spoken!

Fr. John Kavanaugh: Monthly contributor to America magazine; outspoken critic of both Iraq wars, lassaiz faire capitalism, and George Weigel and company; outspoken critic of both political parties and the current American political scene; see Following Christ in a Consumer Society and Who Count as Persons for the juicy details.

Fr. Robert Spitzer: President of Gonzaga University; controversially flew to New York to see the performance of the Vagina Monologues and deemed that it did not contain anything contrary to Catholic doctrine.

Let us preemptively respond to some possible criticisms: 1) the main goal of this post is to point out the flaw in Karen's argument that "Old Fashioned St. Ignatius" Jesuits are somehow exiled from power in the Society, 2) the secondary goal is to point out that Karen is sometimes actually wrong (gasp!) and that some of the "Old Fashioned" Jesuits she lists are actually "Pedro Arrupe" Jesuits, 3) yes, many of the men listed (including Frs. Oakes, Baker and Schall to name a few) would not be considered mainstream Jesuits as compared to their Jesuit peers, but these men continue to publish their orthodox views freely without interference from supposed "liberal" superiors.

Markel, SJ & Mason Slidell

Benedict talks to the Jesuits again

Finally there is an official translation of Benedict's 21 minute long address to GC35.  Since I don't think it has gotten fair treatment, I want to comment on a few elements as it moves along. Most of the treatment has been given to the last paragraph of the talk, as if all the Pope was doing was rapping the Jesuits on the knuckles for being bad.  Not quite what is going on.
Your Congregation takes place in a period of great social, economic and political changes, sharp ethical, cultural and environmental problems, conflicts of all kinds, but also of a more intense communication among peoples, of new possibilities of acquaintance and dialogue, of a deep longing for peace.
I find Benedict's words here already very interesting, especially the concerns that make his list. Those "sharp" problems that make the list are many and varied, from social and cultural problems to ethical and environmental problems. This appears to be an affirmation that the Society's interest in addressing ecological issues during this Congregation are not far off the mark. Benedict himself has made environmental issues a central part of his teaching thus far.
As my predecessors have often told you, the Church needs you, counts on you, and continues to turn to you with confidence, particularly to reach the geographical and spiritual places where others do not reach or find it difficult to reach. Those words of Paul 6th have remained engraved in your hearts: “Wherever in the Church, even in the most difficult and exposed fields, in the crossroads of ideologies, in the social trenches, there has been or is confrontation between the burning exigencies of humanity and the perennial message of the Gospel, there have been and are the Jesuits” (3 December 1974, to the 32nd General Congregation).
Benedict here reaffirms the mission that Paul VI gave to the Society, the mission of combating atheism. There is a reaffirmation, not a condemnation, of the Jesuit's place both at the crossroads of ideology and in the social trenches. 
As the Formula of your Institute states, the Society of Jesus was founded chiefly “for the defence and propagation of the faith”.... This is why the Church is in urgent need of people of solid and deep faith, of a serious culture and a genuine human and social sensitivity, of religious priests who devote their lives to stand on those frontiers in order to witness and help to understand that there is in fact a profound harmony between faith and reason, between evangelical spirit, thirst for justice and action for peace. Only thus will it be possible to make the face of the Lord known to so many for whom it remains hidden or unrecognisable. This must therefore be the preferential task of the Society of Jesus. Faithful to its best tradition, it must continue to form its members with great care in science and virtue, not satisfied with mediocrity, because the task of facing and entering into a dialogue with very diverse social and cultural contexts and the different mentalities of today’s world is one of the most difficult and demanding. This search of quality and human solidity, spiritual and cultural, must also characterize all the many activities of formation and education of the Jesuits, as it meets the most diverse kinds of persons wherever they are.
Here Benedict turns to Jesuit formation. He calls for the need in formation not for a narrow catechesis, but for deep faith, cultural and social sensitivity, and priests willing to devote themselves to the frontier. The use of "frontier" in the full document here is interesting, since many understand Benedict to be attempting to rein in the Jesuits. Rather, he is encouraging them as we see to continue in their extremely multi-faceted work specifically on the frontier, not at the center. This is the "preferential task of the Society of Jesus," precisely to be on the margins. Jesuit formation must continue to be in science and virtue, without mediocrity. The last sentence above I think is also fascinating. Benedict points to the need in formation of "quality and human solidity, spiritual and cultural." This means, spiritual quality and cultural quality, spiritual solidity and cultural human solidity. What could this mean, "cultural 
solidity?"  It at least implies the embrace in formation of a profound anthropology that is not reduced in its scope to the western or the first world. It implies a solid foundation in a recognition of that which constitutes human culture, namely, genuine human creativity.  Jesuit formation must therefore be a school of human creativity even as it is a spiritual school of the heart.  This is a profound challenge that the Jesuits are offered. 
In its history the Society of Jesus has lived extraordinary experiences of proclamation and encounter between the Gospel and the cultures of the world – suffice it to think of Matteo Ricci in China, Roberto de Nobili in India, or the “Reductions” in Latin America – of which you are justly proud. Today I feel I have the duty to exhort you to follow in the footsteps of your predecessors with the same courage and intelligence, but also with as profound a motivation of faith and passion to serve the Lord and his Church.... This does not apply solely to the personal task of each Jesuit; since you work as members of one apostolic body, you must be attentive so that your works and institutions always maintain a clear and explicit identity, so that the purpose of your apostolic work does not become ambiguous or obscure, and many other persons may share your ideals and join you effectively and enthusiastically, collaborating in your task of serving God and humanity.
Many of the above Jesuits got themselves in some pretty binds in their work of inculturation. Benedict is not asking us to step away from that, but to continue to search on the frontiers for the meaning of Incarnation. Of course, this does not mean losing a sense of identity to the mission of spreading Christ crucified, whether in missions abroad or the high school in the U.S. where often the Christian and Catholic mission is subordinated to turning out CEO's. That is one of the saddest things that has happened to Jesuit education. What is required is "courage and intelligence... faith and passion" as well as collaboration with others. 
As you well know because you have so often made the meditation “of the Two Standards” in the Spiritual Exercises under the guidance of St Ignatius, our world is the stage of a battle between good and evil, with powerful negative forces at work, which cause those dramatic situations of spiritual and material subjection of our contemporaries against which you have repeatedly declared your wish to combat, working for the service of the faith and the promotion of justice.
Whether a Jesuit or not, one can never meditate too often on the "Two Standards." They point both to the cause of spiritual and material evil: personal negative spirit doing combat with the soul of each individual; and the method of that combat: the cultivation of spiritual and material riches, spiritual and material honors, spiritual and material pride.  We must continually declare again and again our "wish to combat" spiritual and material subjection. Both are important, and Benedict reaffirms that. 
I know and understand well that this is a particularly sensitive and demanding point for you and not a few of your confreres, especially those engaged in theological research, interreligious dialogue and dialogue with contemporary culture. Precisely for this reason I have invited you and am inviting you today, to further reflect so as to find again the fullest sense of your characteristic “fourth vow” of obedience to the Successor of Peter, which not only implies readiness to being sent in mission to far away lands, but also – in the most genuine Ignatian sense of “feeling with the Church and in the Church – to “love and serve” the Vicar of Christ on earth with that “effective and affective” devotion that must make of you his precious and irreplaceable collaborators in his service of the universal Church. 
"Sentire" with the Church, I like the translation that Benedict offers, "feeling" with the Church. That is an accurate translation, but would require another post. 

Markel, SJ

Monday, February 25, 2008

Mauriac on Desire

Just a brief something before I hit the sack. This is Mauriac in "The Viper's Tangle," arguably his best novel. The protagonist muses:
I have always been mistaken about the object of my desires. We do not know what we desire. We do not love what we think we love.
This is a core insight of Ignatian spirituality. The protagonist here is reflecting on the fact that he finds himself suddenly capable of giving his money away to his children when he dies, a thought that was loathsome to him before. Now he realizes:
I had torn out of myself something to which I was attached, so I thought, by the deepest roots. But I felt nothing but relief.
We do not know what we desire. The whole of the Spiritual Exercises focus on this insight. Each prayer begins with what I desire, with the implicit understanding that there will be an inversion of this by the end of the prayer. Our desire that leads us into this retreat, the impetus for making the retreat, doesn't become a different desire. Rather, the same desire is purified as to its true and proper love. This "spiritual" principle translates into practical life for a Jesuit through conversation with his superior and the "manifestation of conscience" and "representation." There are few things I have found more helpful, precisely because I do not manifestly know what I desire and long for. I desire Christ, but on a practical level I find that I am often wrong about my desires. I regularly think that I desire one thing, and when I get it, discover my own disappointment. Conversely, when I do what I am asked, I experience the fulfillment of desire. I have had so many of these experiences that I now take it for granted about myself.

A central element of Thomistic theology of the body - enunciated by De Lubac in "the Mystery of the Supernatural" - is that the desire of every human is for God. While most modern and post-modern theory speak of desire in terms of fragmentation and lack, and hence of violence, Aquinas spoke of desire in terms of promise, and so in terms of peace. Desire already has what it yearns for, but only in promise. Yet this promise makes all the difference, since it constitutes desire not as a Schopenhaurian locus of violence and struggle, but as a catalyst of peace. This of course does not mean that desire is aware of its promised satisfaction explicitly, but implicitly it has what it yearns for. This is Christ. And so the Ignatian dialectic is that of following desire, "consolation," and yet constantly submitting that desire to the scrutiny of obedience, since the promise of desire is only always already understood by Christ. I want to love what I really love, not what I think I love. But this must be revealed to me, since sin has clouded vision. The very first paragraph of the Exercises points to this.

Therefore desire becomes richest as it learns to discern the presence of "consolation." Tony Corcoran, one of my favorite Jesuits, now in Russia, once told me that John of the Cross's dark night of the soul was actually an experience of consolation. How? Because consolation has little to do with good feeling and everything to do with the awareness of the working of God in one's life. Discernment is nothing other than a glimpse, an insight into the Promise of desire. Even in the misery of his experience, John of the Cross received this, a glimpse in the darkness, and so it was profound consolation. This is how desire is to be followed and discerned, plumbing its depths for its implicit promise.

Markel, SJ

Friday, February 22, 2008

Kosovo Backlash

One of my political heros, Patrick J. Buchanan, has an article on the idiocy of American intervention in Serbia/Kosovo and its varied consequences:
In the spring 1999, the United States bombed Serbia for 78 days to force its army out of that nation’s cradle province of Kosovo. The Serbs were fighting Albanian separatists of the Kosovo Liberation Army, or KLA. And we had no more right to bomb Belgrade than the Royal Navy would have had to bombard New York in our Civil War.


On Sunday [February 17], Kosovo declared independence and was recognized by the European Union and President Bush. But this is not the end of the story. It is only the preface to a new history of the Balkans, a region that has known too much history.By intervening in a civil war to aid the secession of an ancient province, to create a new nation that has never before existed and, to erect it along ethnic, religious and tribal lines, we have established a dangerous precedent.


By intervening in a civil war where no vital interest was at risk, the United States, which is being denounced as loudly in Belgrade today as we are being cheered in Pristina, has acquired another dependency.
Forgive me for being ominous, but I think we are now beginning to see the backlash from our intervention in the Serbian/Kosovo war. Our intervention was an unwise adventure into a regional and political conflict which should have been the purview of our European allies. We have had U.S. forces in Kosovo since 1999 and will be forced to remain even longer with the likelihood of renewed hostilites.

The worst aspect of this, however, is that the United States has again circumvented the United Nations in favor of unilateral action. Kosovo would have been less likely to make their own unilateral decision that has resulted in continued regional instability if the U.S. had not given its encouragment.

The merits of independence for Kosovo may be valid, but independence will not prove valuable if done out of a sense of nationalism and provocation. I hope and pray that cooler heads are able to prevail and there is not a resumption of war in the region. I also hope Kosovo will use this as an opportunity for subsidiarity and local governance and reject the KLA's militaristic call for a "Greater Albania."

Mason Slidell

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Almost Dare Not

More beautiful words from Benedict. He has clearly appropriated the depth of Ignatian spirituality. If one of the common stock phrases about John Paul II was that he didn't understand the Society, but I don't think the same can be said about Benedict. Before leading the members of the congregation today in the suscipe, he said these words:
I join with you in the prayer taught us by Saint Ignatius at the close of his Exercises — a prayer which I always find almost overwhelming, to the point where I almost dare not say it … yet which we must always appropriate anew.
Markel, SJ

The Poor

This is a quote from Benedict's address to GC35 that many will probably pass over:
"For us, the option for the poor is not ideological but rather is born of the Gospel."

Markel, SJ

An Invitation

This is a beautiful invitation from a profound thinker and father. I see in it a great theological space for reflection on the Jesuit's fourth vow in the contemporary theological context. Any thoughts on how that should look? Here's a quote from Benedict's recent audience with GC35:
For this reason I have asked a renewed effort on your part to promote and defend Catholic doctrine, "in particular those neuralgic points of doctrine under heavy attack today from secular culture," some examples of which I gave in my Letter. The issues of the salvation of all men in Christ, of sexual morality, of marriage and family -- issues constantly debated and called into question today -- will become more deeply and clearly understood in the context of contemporary reality, if one maintains that harmony with the Magisterium which avoids causing confusion and distress among the People of God.

I well understand that this is a particularly delicate and troublesome issue for you and for many of your companions, especially those engaged in theological research, in inter-religious dialogue, and in dialogue with contemporary cultures. Precisely for this reason I have invited you in the past and I invite you again today to consider how to regain a fuller meaning of your distinctive "fourth vow" of obedience to the Successor of Peter -- which consists not solely in readiness to be sent on mission to distant lands, but also -- in the more authentically Ignatian spirit of "thinking with the Church and in the Church" -- in the the readiness to "love and serve" the Vicar of Christ on earth with that "effective and affective" devotion which must make you his precious and irreplaceable co-workers in his service for the universal Church.
Markel, SJ

We're not just a sinking ship

This is something I commented (with a few additions) over at Some Wear Clerics.

A couple things I want to say:

First, Nicolas is not going to do anything about those (that George Weigel harps on and with him many conservative blogs) things, ok? He's not I don't think, and that's just life. We can say that's good, bad, whatever, but he'll write some good things, be a good administrator, keep good ties with the Vatican, and that's probably it. To keep whining about it is not helpful. He can't even do much of anything about our Universities in the U.S. We can't. Control has been lost, and that has to be dealt with now as it is. Maybe the best thing is to take our Jesuit name back and leave it at that. Fine.

Second, it's wrong to act as if the Society of Jesus can be reduced to its worst members or to intellectual currents. There are thousands of Jesuits who will take with them to heaven thousands of people, both of whom we have never heard of. And they will quite easily do so without "orthodoxy" ever crossing their minds. Sure, that's an important term and question in current day intellectual Catholic America, but is not all there is to living a good Jesuit life. It's actually fairly low on the list, both for Jesus and Ignatius. As Balthasar once said: "Every Catholic who lives in love has his own free and immediate access to God and his freedom to state his opinion in the Church, provided that this is done in love." He is simply being a good Augustinian here, and Benedict has spoken similarly. Jesuits may have some screwy opinions, but that doesn't condemn them to hell.

I think a good Benedict quote from during Vatican II puts some of this in perspective: "Some seem concerned only with Joseph, the rosary, the consecration of the world to Mary, devotion to the sacred heart of Mary, and so on - which betrays their lack of theological enlightenment." Sound like something you've heard many "liberal" Jesuits say? Not that some traditional pious customs are not good. Not that thinking with the hierarchical Church is not what we should do. But it's not all we do.

Nor is thinking with the Church repeating the Church, as many seem to think on "orthodox" blogs. De Lubac never grew tired of pointing out the difference between "traditionism" and "thinking with the Tradition." There is a great difference, and simply repeating the Tradition does it no service and actually harms it, misunderstanding the problem of language and history. So of course I'm all for thinking with the Church. But let's let the contemporary Society of Jesus figure out how to do it, as we are trying to do - listening of course to Benedict's helpful advice - and not try to squeeze ourselves back into some earlier "orthodox" models. That does the Church no service.

Markel, SJ

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Oscar Anulfo Romero

Catholic World News here has updated information on the cause for beatification of Archbishop Oscar Romero. The topic in question at this point is as to whether or not he was a martyr for the Faith as opposed to a political assasination. CWN points out however that it is not only the El Salvadorean people who have taken to calling Romero a martyr:
Archbishop Romero was among the most prominent critics of human-rights abuses in El Salvador during his years (1977-1980) as Archbishop of San Salvador. He was shot and killed by a right-wing "death squad" on March 23, 1980. The killing shocked the world and loosed a torrent of emotion in El Salvador, where he was particularly beloved by the poor. An estimated 250,000 people attended the archbishop's funeral-- which was itself disrupted by gunfire.

Soon after the archbishop's death, Catholics in El Salvador began to refer to him as a martyr. Both Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI have used the term in reference to the slain Salvadoran prelate.
It is common knowledge that John Paul II and Romero had some differences while Romero was alive. He was often accused of being involved with the worse aspects of Liberation Theology and had to defend his actions on behalf of the poor. A conversation is related in which he tried to inform John Paul that the experience of communism in El Salvador was different from what he suffered in Poland. They could not be treated univocally. After Romero's death, however, John Paul visited and prayed at Romero's tomb.

Whether or not Romero is judged to have been a martyr for the Faith I think does little to contest his sanctity. The new requirements for beatification that are stricter concerning the growth of a local cult that acknowledges the holiness of the person are well met. The entire country, on the Left and Right, invoke him. I remember hearing while I was in El Salvador of some particularly acute acts of heroic holiness. He regularly visited the small towns that were controlled by Guerrilla and Government forces alike. Visiting the town where I was staying at once to say mass, he was strip searched in the sight of the whole town down to his undergarments. No distinction was offered to him as a man of peace and a man of the Church. Yet witnesses with whom I spoke relate that he offered no resistance at all. Let us pray for the humility of this holy man.

Markel, SJ

More on Kmiec

Doug Kmiec followed up today at Catholic Online on the piece he wrote for Slate a few days back. Needless to say, the self-described “conservative Catholic” bloggers have been pounding him as a traitor to the cause, with still-recovering Deal Hudson saying that Kmiec is hoping for a Supreme Court appointment out of Obama. Poor theo-cons!

First, I think Kmiec’s original piece was not meant to represent his personal views, but to be a smart political analysis of the Catholic vote in the United States. In that endeavor, he achieved great success.

In the second article, Kmiec does a great job illustrating that it is the duty of Catholics to be discerning voters and the importance of sober moral inquiry into who Catholics should vote for in any given election. It is a great piece, so go read it!

The simple fact: a Catholic voter in America faces difficult choices. If only more Catholics would realize this, I think we would have a party or a set of candidates who would better represent us. I want to call your attention to what I would argue is the most important passage in the document Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship from the U.S. bishops published last fall:
Catholics often face difficult choices about how to vote. This is why it is so important to vote according to a well-formed conscience that perceives the proper relationship among moral goods.

A Catholic cannot vote for a candidate who takes a position in favor of an intrinsic evil, such as abortion or racism, if the voter’s intent is to support that position. In such cases a Catholic would be guilty of formal cooperation in grave evil.

At the same time, a voter should not use a candidate’s opposition to an intrinsic evil to justify indifference or inattentiveness to other important moral issues involving human life and dignity.
Do you hear that pro-abortion Democrats? You place your soul in jeopardy by having your party label mean more to you than your duty to oppose evil. Repent now!

And do you hear that too theo-cons? You are not allowed to sacrifice your judgment to the GOP because they have a pro-life plank in the platform. You must also free yourself from political dogma that supports the evil excesses of war and the false god of patriotism. Repent and believe in the Gospel!

Do not despair in this temporal world, for Christ has conquered it. It is time to become radically faithful to Christ over and above allegiances to the parties of your forefathers.

Your vote belongs to you and nobody else. Don’t be afraid to vote for someone without a D or R behind the name. Sometimes it’s the only way!

Mason Slidell

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Ellen Page

Mason passed this interview with Ellen Page from the movie Juno on to me this morning. The full text is here. I found this to be the most interesting, and saddest, part:
Is "Juno" a pro-life movie?

Not in the slightest, and if you knew me and if you knew the writer and the director, no one would ever say that. It happens to be a film about a girl who has a baby and gives it to a yuppie couple. That's what the movie's about. Like, I'm really sorry to everyone that she doesn't have an abortion, but that's not what the film is about. She goes to an abortion clinic and she completely examines all the opportunities and all the choices allowed her and that's obviously the most crucial thing. It's as simple as that.

I call myself a feminist when people ask me if I am, and of course I am 'cause it's about equality, so I hope everyone is. You know you're working in a patriarchal society when the word feminist has a weird connotation. "Hippie" has a weird connotation. "Liberal" has a weird connotation.

How sad. She's obviously missing what being pro-life is all about, but maybe we can't blame her. The pro-life movement hasn't done such a good job of framing this issue in a way that doesn't smack of old fashioned conservatism or rural Kansas values or patriarchal feudalism. That at least is the impression that Ellen Page has.

Markel, SJ

Saturday, February 16, 2008

New Theologies of the Body

Policraticus has this to say over at Vox Nova:
Pope Benedict XVI is a man of great intellect and sentiment, and I find his brief analysis of Marx to be balanced and fair. It is encouraging to see that true Catholic thinking still attempts to do justice to even the most flawed and detrimental ideas in history. I hope all of us will follow the Pope’s lead in informing ourselves and appreciating the thought of those we intend to critique. Such is the real union between fides et ratio.
I feel like I haven't seen enough commentary on Spe Salvi, so I was glad to see that the full post is a commentary on probably the now most well known section of the encyclical outlining a brief history of atheism in Europe. I had planned on making a similar comment as the one above on Benedict's ability to do justice to flawed ideas. I was surprised the first time I realized that his "Introduction to Christianity" never quotes Thomas Aquinas even once and instead prefers to draw broadly from ideas in many traditions. Just the other day I was reading the Papal Address to Participants in the Congress on Women. In that statement, which is excellent, he comments on the current anthropological vacuum that exists in the Christian world as far as articulation is concerned.
Certainly a renewed anthropological research is necessary that, on the basis of the great Christian tradition, incorporates the new advances of science and the datum of contemporary cultural sensibilities, contributing in this way to the deepened understanding not only of feminine identity but also masculine identity, which is frequently the object of partial and ideological reflections.
The view of the body as the locus of ideology has become presumed knowledge since the work of Foucoult hit the mainstream. For example, his famous quote: Nothing in man -- not even his body -- is sufficiently stable to serve as the basis for self-recognition or for understanding other men.

The body for Foucoult is simply a historical "play of dominations." Like many postmoderns, however, the answer for Foucoult remains too characteristically modern. If Reason is critique and ideology, then the only place for it to turn is toward constant never ending self-referential deconstruction. There is no way out. Anthropology is nothing in this case but genealogy, and the construction of an ideology is simply the institution of less violent plays of domination. But not so for Benedict, as it was not for John Paul II. Blazing new ground in a way that has not been appreciated by many, George McAleer points out in his fantastic new book, "Ecstatic Morality and Sexual Politics" and Fergus Kerr in "Twentieth Century Catholic Theologians" the importance and newness of their reflections on sexual difference and theologies of the body. What to they do?
In the face of cultural and political currents that attempt to eliminate, or at least to obfuscate and confuse, the sexual differences written into human nature, considering them to be cultural constructions, it is necessary to recall the design of God that created the human being male and female, with a unity and at the same time an original and complementary difference. Human nature and the cultural dimension are integrated in an ample and complex process that constitutes the formation of the identity of each, where both dimensions -- the feminine and the masculine -- correspond to and complete each other.
They go back, as John Paul famously did, "to the beginning." Not to the Transcendental Ego of Husserl, not to Decartes' Cogito, but to the God-made image from the beginning. John Paul's use of the Subject, while potentially dangerous at times, was exploited primarily by him in the analysis of interiority. This interiority however is never self-evident to itself. It remains fastened to the "Great Hope" of Spe Salvi, ever in its past in its Creation ex nihilo, and ever in its Eschatological realization. The Self is not a Thing, nor a Construction, nor a Transcendental Observer. It is... what God created it to be. This seems to be a big part of Benedicts's message in Spe Salvi. The self is the self that clings to God in hope. Overcoming the modern and postmodern heresies, faith places the self firmly in the horizon of God's plan.

I recently went to my graduate professor's office to suggest a paper I want to write on postmodern gender theory and the theology of the body of John Paul II. Though at a Catholic institution, I was not surprised to find she had never heard of it. Nor severely disappointed. John Paul began something, something that Benedict above describes as a project that "incorporates the new advances of science and the datum of contemporary cultural sensibilities." But what he did was not supposed to stop. Many commentaries have come out on his work, but these alone are entirely inadequate to the task. What the Church needs is not more research into Scheler and John Paul's methodology - though that is useful - but many more such projects doing what he did, with the work of modern gender theory and psychoanalysis. These, "on the basis of the great Christian tradition," will lend to the Church the tools needed for a continual re-articulation of a Catholic anthropology.

Markel, SJ

Friday, February 15, 2008

Philosophy of Human Pain

Life News reports how new developments in fetal pain analysis have led first to this interesting paradox:
Scientific and medical acceptance of fetal pain would require, at a minimum, the use of some form of anesthesia in abortions beginning at eighteen weeks. Women would have to be informed that their unborn children likely feel pain beginning at around 20 weeks and maybe earlier.
Anesthesia while killing the unborn fetus. And then also to these interesting conclusions:
Annie Murphy Paul quotes Elizabeth Nash, a public-policy associate with the Guttmacher Institute, a special affiliate of Planned Parenthood, “By personifying the fetus, [pro-lifers are] trying to steer the woman’s decision away from abortion.”

Paul writes, “In their use of pain to make the fetus seem more fully human, anti-abortion forces draw on a deep tradition. Pain has long played a special role in how society determines who is like us or not like us (‘us’ being those with the power to make and enforce such distinctions.) The capacity to feel pain has often been put forth as proof of a common humanity. . . .Over time, the charmed circle of those considered to be alive to pain, and therefore fully human, has widened to include members of other religions and races, the poor, the criminal, the mentally ill—and, thanks to the work of Sunny Anand and others, the very young. Should the circle enlarge once more, to admit those not yet born?”
I didn't know we were running an exclusive club here. The argument is not so interesting to me as what it reveals. I would be interested in knowing for whom pain is one of the identifiers of human identity. Animals experience consciousness of pain. It is self-consciousness that is often considered specifically human. Whether a fetus has this self-conscious awareness I don't know, but just the feeling of pain is not what makes it human. What is interesting is the fear noted in the voice, and the desired exclusivity and elitism underlying the statement. If we let more in, there will be less for all. The utilitarianism underlying the philosophy here just smacks you in the face.

Markel, SJ

Benedict's Carbon Footprints

The Vatican has taken measures to offset its "carbon footprints." Aside from all the arguments concerning how much of global warming is human caused, the Vatican seems to clearly view the problem of carbon emissions in the light of wastefulness and human stewardship. Maybe Benedict is just apply Pascal's wager to this one.
Archbishop Celestino Migliore, the apostolic nuncio leading the Holy See’s permanent observer mission to the United Nations, addressed the General Assembly on Wednesday and called for an international strategy to respond to climate change.

The numerous public appeals of Pope Benedict XVI, he noted, have also helped renew respect for God’s creation and the duty to safeguard it.

He said the Holy See has taken measures to offset the carbon emissions of Vatican City by erecting solar panels and sponsoring a reforestation project in Hungary. The reforestation project, the archbishop said, will restore degraded land and provide environmental benefits and local jobs to Hungary.

Archbishop Migliore praised individuals and communities that have begun to change their lives to benefit the environment. “While such lifestyle changes at times may seem irrelevant, every small initiative to reduce or offset one’s carbon footprint, be it the avoidance of the unnecessary use of transport or the daily effort to reduce energy consumption, contributes to mitigating environmental decay and concretely shows commitment to environmental care.
Markel, SJ

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Reagan Democrats Return?

Here is a small piece from an article at Slate by Doug Kmiec.

But now that Romney's out, whom might Catholics turn to? Since I served at one time as Reagan's constitutional lawyer, it would be natural for me to fall in line behind John McCain. Don't worry about his conservative lapses, says President Bush, the foremost expert on lapsed conservativism. There is no gainsaying that McCain is a military hero deserving of salute. But McCain seems fixated on just taking the next hill in Iraq. His Iraqi military objective is laudable, but it assumes good reasons to be there in the first place. It also ignores that Catholics are looking to bless the peacemakers.

Now, don't think me daft, but when Obama gave his victory remarks in Iowa calling upon America to "choose hope over fear and to choose unity over division," he was standing squarely in the shoes of the "Great Communicator." Notwithstanding all of Bill Clinton's self-possessed heckling to the contrary, Obama was right—Reagan was a "transformative" president. Reagan liked to tell us he was proudest of his ability to make America feel good about itself. He did. Catholic sensibility tells me Obama wants it to deserve that feeling.

Boy is he on the money! Kmiec is no fuddy-duddy pinko or pulseless neo-con. He is a Catholic politico who sees the true motives in the Catholic vote. Put simply, Catholics vote based upon the candidate's ability to inspire. Catholics, on the whole, are NOT issue voters. Instead, they vote with a sense of sacramentality: outward decency that reveals inward virtue.

Is this a good way to vote? Probably not. Are Catholics assumptions about the decency of politicians well-founded? Not really. But the larger point remains. Catholics love Reagan and will love Obama because of each man's ability to use political language to reveal something good about America: in our neighborhoods, churches and political processes.

Mason Slidell

Chaput vs... Karen?

Karen Hall is a huge fan of Archbishop Chaput and company until... oh, wait, until they disagree with her and her personal brand of Catholicism. Then, well, I guess he's not the great Archbishop she thought he was. I didn't realize that cafeteria Catholicism was bad unless it was your own brand of it. Reminds me of certain reactions to Benedict XVI when he wasn't the junkyard watchdog that they wanted him to be. I mean, don't they understand that we have certain (insert "neo-conservative") agendas over here in the great U.S.A? Apparently he has a world to be concerned about.

Markel, SJ

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Scalia on Torture

Scalia makes a difficult pragmatic move here. Any comments?
"You can’t come in smugly and with great self satisfaction and say ‘Oh it’s torture, and therefore it’s no good’,” he said in a rare interview. . . . In the interview with the Law in Action programme on BBC Radio 4, he said it was “extraordinary” to assume that the ban on “cruel and unusual punishment” - the US Constitution’s Eighth Amendment - also applied to “so-called” torture. “To begin with the constitution… is referring to punishment for crime. And, for example, incarcerating someone indefinitely would certainly be cruel and unusual punishment for a crime.”

Justice Scalia argued that courts could take stronger measures when a witness refused to answer questions. “I suppose it’s the same thing about so-called torture. Is it really so easy to determine that smacking someone in the face to determine where he has hidden the bomb that is about to blow up Los Angeles is prohibited in the constitution?” he asked.

“It would be absurd to say you couldn’t do that. And once you acknowledge that, we’re into a different game. “How close does the threat have to be? And how severe can the infliction of pain be?”
Markel, SJ

"All Hat and No Cattle"

The primary results along the Potomac River last night were lack much pizzazz. As the primary schedule marches forward, the Obama and McCain campaigns are slowly but steadily racking up wins and delegates. Certainly John McCain will be the Republican nominee and I think it is fair to now call Barack Obama the Democratic frontrunner.

The more interesting event last night was the “let’s-pretend-nothing-happened-out-east” speech of Hillary Clinton in…Pittsburgh? Cleveland? Dallas? No, in El Paso, Texas. I would be willing to put money that it has been quite a while (and likely never) that El Paso was at the center of a Presidential campaign. The Clinton campaign is attempting to create a firewall on March 4 in both Texas and Ohio, but Texas will be the center for one reason: Latino voters. Where will Hillary be campaigning over the next few days? In Corpus Christi, San Antonio and the Rio Grande Valley. Again, I would bet that Hillary Clinton is the first Presidential candidate EVER to campaign in the Rio Grande Valley!

The black/brown divide in the Democratic Party has been in the making for many years and in this election cycle, the rift has come to the surface. Clinton has the short end of the stick here. Black voters are registered and well organized. Latino voters are registered, but less reliable at the polls. On March 4 in Texas, Obama is likely to capture 90% of the black voter with at least half of the white vote. Clinton has to do spectacularly well among Latino voters in south Texas, netting between 70-90%.

I doubt she can do it. The numbers from El Paso, San Antonio, Corpus Christi and the Valley could be the most important numbers on that night. Another first!

Mason Slidell

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Benedict on Lent

A beautiful segment from one of Benedict's pre-Lenten meditations to a deacon:
On this occasion, I bring to mind -- though it is perhaps not immediately inherent to the theme -- a simple experience that Paul VI noted. Each day of the Council, the Gospel was enthroned. And the Pontiff told those in charge of the ceremony that he would like one time to be the one who enthrones the Gospel. They told him no, this is the job of the deacons, not of the Pope. He wrote in his diary: But I am also a deacon, I continue being a deacon, and I would like to also exercise this ministry of the diaconate placing the word of God on its throne. Thus, this concerns all of us. Priests continue being deacons, and the deacons make explicit in the Church and in the world this diaconal dimension of our ministry. This liturgical enthroning of the word of God each day during the Council was always for us a gesture of great importance: It told us who was the true Lord of that assembly; it told us that the word of God was on the throne and that we exercise our ministry to listen and to interpret, to offer to the others this word. It is broadly significant for all that we do: enthroning in the world the word of God, the living word, Christ. May it really be him who governs our personal life and our life in the parishes....
Markel, SJ

Monday, February 11, 2008

Ontology of Trash

I want to recommend a book written by a fellow Jesuit, Greg Kennedy, called "An Ontology of Trash: The Disposable and Its Problematic Nature." His Heideggerian thinking is helpful I think to addressing the question of global warming and economic issues surrounding recycling.

Markel, SJ

Rahner and Mary

I can't help posting this that I just read in De Lubac's "Motherhood of the Church":
Cardinal Suenens recently related a very significant remark that had come straight from the mouth of Father Karl Rahner: 'I asked Father Rahner how he explained the decrease of Marian piety in the Church. His reply is worthy of attention. Too many Christians, he said to me, whatever their religious obedience, have a tendency to make an ideology, an abstraction, out of Christianity. And abstractions have no need of a mother.'
I thought that was beautiful. Two of the best books I have read about Mary were written by the Rahner brothers. Hugo's "Mary and the Church" and Karl's "Mary, Mother of the Lord."

Markel, SJ

Friday, February 8, 2008

Sartrian Lenten Meditations

Sartre begins for us the season of Lent, at least for us phenomenologists who might find interesting what he has to say. Me? not much of a Sartrian. But insofar as he initiated what is now called "inverted intentionality," he has my vote. Sartre started off this story. And it's appropriate to Lent insofar as we focus less on how we look at our own sinfulness than on how God sees it and reveals - a very Ignatian understanding of sin - sin to us. Ignatius will not allow the exercitant to move beyond Week I until he or she properly feels and experiences the grace of sorrow for sin. This is something that must be revealed, even our own condition. Sin is not a matter of intentional searching, it is a matter of being searched, and found to be what one is in God's sight, and not in one's own.

In Being and Nothingness Sartre has an important chapter on “The Look.” How do I know the body of the other that I see is really a human person and not an organism? The problem of other minds comes along with the problem of an external world. Sartre says we can’t doubt. We can say we doubt, but we can’t, since in every doubt is presumed what we are doubting. What is interesting philosophically about the Look though is how other persons are “given” to us. Sartre says they are given to us when we find ourselves looked at, seen. Not my gaze as in Husserlian phenomenology, not my gaze that bestows meaning, but the other’s gaze directed toward me. Sartre is half Augustinianism, half Hobbesian, one could say. Sartre doesn’t want the other to define him. When I find myself constituted in my existence by the gaze of the other, I have two regular reactions. Either I turn the other into an object to deprive them of the gaze that sees me and judges me, etc., which would be Sadism. Or, with Masochism, I let them be a subject, but only as a puppet of my will. I try to protect myself. I reduce the other to someone over whom I preside. This is a post-Husserlian echo of Hegel’s famous passage on the Master/Slave metaphor. He takes it as a powerful struggle involved in every relationship. I am a sinner, or in Hobbesian terms, I am the one who makes all others peripheral to myself.

Very Augustinian and Lutheran point, sin in not the violation of a rule, but the problem which I am out of which those actions flow, that is what “original sin” is. Even good actions, actions that don’t break the rules, flow from a self that is not good. All actions flowing from this self are actions asserting independence from God and actions which want to subject the other to my own gazing power. Since I want to be the absolute seer, speaker, definer, I want to be God, I want to be the absolute. So, as he says, “man is a useless passion.”

Inverted intentionality doesn't have to be described this way. But only when God is in the picture, when the primary constituting gaze, the primary giver of meaning, is a loving God. Rather than constituting for ourselves those around us, let us be mediums of the compassion of a loving God.

Markel, SJ

Another Round for Those V Things

We're at that time of year again, the vagina monologues come to town. The Cardinal Newman Society has released again its list of Catholic Universities allowing the monlogues to be produced on their campuses. Of course they don't distinguish between whether they are club sponsored or school sponsored, that is not within their interests. The list:

Bellarmine University
College of the Holy Cross
College of Mount Saint Vincent
College of Saint Rose
DePaul University
Dominican University of California
Fordham University
Georgetown University
John Carroll University
Le Moyne College
Loyola Marymount University
Loyola University Chicago
Loyola University New Orleans
Marygrove College
Regis College
Saint Louis University
Saint Mary’s College of California
University of Detroit Mercy
University of Notre Dame
University of San Francisco

Includes of course many Jesuit schools. What is to be said of this? I attended last year at my school in order to get a perspective on the controversial production. I was not impressed. I thought it was generally a bad piece of art, and presentation never being neutral, I thought it clearly advocated a position in regards to what was presented. However, a man I deeply respect, Fr. Spitzer, SJ, president of Gonzaga, purportedly flew to New York to see them performed when they initially came out and returned to Gonzaga to say that he didn't like them but didn't find anything in them to go against official Catholic Church teaching, and a university being what it is, a forum for intellectual growth and the exchange of ideas, that it would not be banned from Gonzaga. If he means that as far as teaching content goes, seeing as they don't per se have any teaching content, but only stories, then of course I think he is right. My only qualifier I think would be to encourage campuses that allowed the Monologues to frame them within a larger discussion of Catholic sexual ethics. I think there are good ways that Catholic universities could take advantage of this as a tool for dialogue and pedagogy rather than reacting in the way they have. I remember being impressed by about 6 out of the the 12, 13(?) or so stories, and thinking that those could be great springboards for conversation, particularly the one which dealt with the Look of Shame and the Look of Love. Very Wojtylian.

Markel, SJ